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HOW HIP-HOP MUSIC IS SLOWLY TRANSCENDING ITS CIRCULAR CULTURE
December 3, 2004 9:13 PM   Subscribe

The best essay on hip-hop I've read...
posted by pabanks46 (154 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Honestly, not that great.
posted by reflection at 9:24 PM on December 3, 2004


How many times does history have to repeat itself before even the most ill informed people can recognize it as a cliché? This is mostly the story of punk rock, and before that, R&B and before that, bebop and before that...

Not saying that hip hop suxx0rs or anything, just asking how many times people have to deconstruct pop-cultural "phenomena" before they actually learn they're fucking history and realize its just the same shit repeating itself time after time after time.
posted by psmealey at 10:13 PM on December 3, 2004


Didn't really do anything enlightening for me, either.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 10:18 PM on December 3, 2004


Pop-music = newspeak.

Oh and since this is my first post, I would like to give a shout-out (or post out) to my friend dMEX.
posted by j-urb at 10:21 PM on December 3, 2004


I hate to say that popmatters continues to suck. Try out

As a white metrosexual, I danced my ass off to this album whilst in college.

And "Express Yourself" by NWA. Let's keep it dangerous.
posted by bardic at 10:22 PM on December 3, 2004


Hip-hop suxx0rs.
posted by Cryptical Envelopment at 10:25 PM on December 3, 2004


Mmm, typical newbie. Find a copy of Brand New Heavies, Heavy Rhyme Experience, vol. 1.

I sleep now.
posted by bardic at 10:26 PM on December 3, 2004


Hip-hop has embraced the world and millions like myself embrace it back, irrespective of boundaries, upbringings and prejudices; united by the heartbeat of the drum and the fundamental message: One love forever, one love for all.

This is ridiculous. Hip-hop does not have an ethos, especially not "one love". It is not designed to make one feel good or to unite the world. Individual artists may be interested in these things, but some are clearly not.

And as a sheltered white boy, I have a responsibility to plug a non-threatening album for sheltered white boys: Jurassic 5's Quality Control. "Keep it dangerous" my ass.
posted by medialyte at 10:35 PM on December 3, 2004


Mmmmm... Jurassic 5. On the odd little DVD that I got with one of their albums they showed J5 playing a concert in a park. I chuckled when I saw the crowd was almost all white.... like me.... damn good music though, and that's all that counts.

I should also plug Blackalicious's Blazing Arrow, which is not as threatening as it sounds : )
posted by ontic at 11:08 PM on December 3, 2004


players play, lame-o's write about it. same old.
posted by quonsar at 11:09 PM on December 3, 2004


white producers and musicians were became interested
...
the progressive rock noodling it was partially created as rebellion
...
etc.

A slightly interesting read unfortunately marred (as usual) by the jarring effects of poor English. It doesn't have to be this way, as Chuck D has shown.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:20 PM on December 3, 2004


mmm. tiny. meant to say je suis le noob. 9-11 is a joke. Just fuckin makes me dance. Fantastic fuckin albums.
posted by bardic at 11:52 PM on December 3, 2004


Sorry, but I found the essay so poorly written that I couldn't be bothered to finish it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:24 AM on December 4, 2004


Reminds me of when I saw KRS-ONE do his speech at Fresno State. It felt like a high school speaker doing their little gig. Just so much nonsense.
posted by andendau at 1:32 AM on December 4, 2004


I don't agree that this piece represents hip hop, but I recognize the inherent beauty in it. I think it was well written in respects to the writing style and prose. Focus on the prose of the piece, and you will notice it paints a colorful picture. (Although ever so slightly anti-white... whatever.)
posted by Keyser Soze at 2:32 AM on December 4, 2004


It's when we get to the point of dissing KRS-1 that I have to say that hip-hop is the one thing I couldn't give two shits what you all have to say. A number of people state they have problems with the article, but other than the fact that it is poorly written (er, a few errors notwithstanding, it really *isn't* badly written) I have no idea what the objections are.

The piece successfully communicates an enthusiasm for good hip hop music whilst expressing reservations about bad hip hop music. The emphasis on Eminem and Jay Z is misplaced, in my opinion, but the endorsements of Big Daddy Kane, MF Doom and Talib Kweli are welcome. I am uncomfortable with a white commentator passing judgement on essentially a black art-form's direction, however.

Yawn-worthy endorsements of Jurassic 5 and Blackalicious are one step away from recommendations for Aesop Rock as far as I'm concerned. If you want non-threatening party music then by all means listen to Quality Control or Blazing Arrow; but if you want to have an understanding of Hip Hop then check It's a Big Daddy Thing, Vaudeville Villain and Reflection Eternal by the afore-mentioned for tastes of hip hop bravado; experimental abstraction; and conscious rhymes over raw, sparse beats respectively. Then, if you have the balls for it, listen to the awesome bomb-squad produced AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted. Check the artists and the prophets first, STFU until you have, and stick you white-sensibility-friendly recommendations up your jacksy. When you do that, I'll care what you think.
posted by nthdegx at 2:53 AM on December 4, 2004


I am uncomfortable with a white commentator passing judgement on essentially a black art-form's direction, however.

Why on earth would you feel that way? I'm genuinely curious. Americans (I assume you are one) mystify me sometimes.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:01 AM on December 4, 2004


It's music people. In the underground it's artistic and experimental. In popular culture it's audio crack for the lowest common denominator.

Rock or Rap or any other genre the same formula applies.

The most popular from the underground floats to the top and becomes the crack.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:04 AM on December 4, 2004


Stravos:

White Americans and Black Americans have a difficult relationship. You can look into our history to understand why if you don't already know.

It has something to do with slavery and years of oppresion. No one around here likes having whites say black art is good or bad.

It never works out right anyway, first white criticts thought jazz and rock sucked only to be proved morons a few years later.

Don't be mystified, ok.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:09 AM on December 4, 2004


I'll remain mystified until someone can do a better job than that American Culture for Kindergarteners lesson, kthxbye.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:18 AM on December 4, 2004 [1 favorite]


Well, I had a nice long post that wasn't American Culture for Kindergartners but I deleted it because it devolved into racial stereotypes.

And that is the point.

Americans are not comfortable with white people discussing the direction of black culture because it always ends up as a bunch of pointless racial stereotypes.

Not to mention, the direction of any culture can not be comfortably discussed, because culture has a firm tradition of going in very random directions.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:44 AM on December 4, 2004


Americans (I assume you are one) mystify me sometimes.

Why on earth would you assume that? I'm genuinely curious. Furiousxgeorge nails it. By his own admission, too, the writer calls himself an outsider. He acknowledges he can't understand Hip Hop to the fullest extent. He recognises that his wish for Hip Hop to become colourless and about-the-music is both unreasonable and unrealistic. By what yardstick, then, is he qualified to pass judgement on the direction of Hip Hop? (as if it only has the one....)
posted by nthdegx at 3:45 AM on December 4, 2004


I liked this essay. Thanks, pabanks46.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:03 AM on December 4, 2004


There was something to that piece, but I would recommend a hundred Greg Tate essays (just the first name off the top of my head, but he's incredible as a writer on hip-hop specifically and black music history in general) over this.
posted by chicobangs at 4:20 AM on December 4, 2004


Why on earth would you assume that?

Because I was too lazy to check your profile, of course, and the odds are around here that it'd be a good assumption.

You still haven't answered my question about why you are 'uncomfortable with a white commentator passing judgement on essentially a black art-form's direction,' though.

Then again, it doesn't much matter to me. Like I said, I couldn't even struggle through that article to the end, filled with badly-phrased sophomoric gush as it was.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:57 AM on December 4, 2004


dead prez, hip hop:

It’s bigger than hip hop, hip hop, hip hop, hip hop

Uh, one thing ’bout music, when it hit you feel no pain
White folks say it controls your brain
I know better than that, that’s game and we ready for that
Two soldiers head of the pack, matter of fact who got the gat?
And where my army at?
Rather attack and not react
Back the beats, it don’t reflect on how many records get sold
On sex, drugs, and rock and roll, whether your project’s put on hold
In the real world, these just people with ideas
They just like me and you when the smoke and camera disappear
Again the real world, it’s bigger than all these fake ass records
When poor folks got the millions and my woman’s disrespected
If you check 1,2, my word of advice to you is just relax
Just do what you got to do, if that don’t work then kick the facts
If you a fighter, rider, ? bout’er? , flame ignitor, crowd exciter
Or you wanna just get high, then just say it
But then if you a liar-liar, pants on fire, wolf-cry agent with a wire
I’m gonna know it when I play it

Hook

Uh, who shot biggie smalls?
If we don’t get them, they gonna get us all
I’m down for runnin’ up on them crackers in they city hall
We ride for y’all, all my dogs stay real
Nigga don’t think these record deals gonna feed your seeds
And pay your bills because they not
Mc’s get a little bit of love and think they hot
Talkin’ bout how much money they got, all y’all records sound the same
I sick of that fake thug, r & b, rap scenario all day on the radio
Same scenes in the video, monotonous material, y’all don’t here me though
These record labels slang our tapes like dope
You can be next in line, and signed, and still be writing rhymes and broke
You would rather have a lexus, some justice, a dream or some substance?
A beamer, a necklace or freedom?
Still a nigga like me don’t playa’ hate, I just stay awake
This real hip hop, and it don’t stop until we get the po-po off the block
They call it....
posted by orange clock at 5:25 AM on December 4, 2004


beatles, I want to hold your hand:

Oh yeah, I’ll tell you something,
I think you’ll understand.
When I’ll say that something
I want to hold your hand,
I want to hold your hand,
I want to hold your hand.

Oh please, say to me
You’ll let me be your man
And please, say to me
You’ll let me hold your hand.
Now let me hold your hand,
I want to hold your hand.

And when I touch you I feel happy inside.
It’s such a feeling that my love
I can’t hide, I can’t hide, I can’t hide.

Yeah, you’ve got that something,
I think you’ll understand.
When I’ll say that something
I want to hold your hand,
I want to hold your hand,
I want to hold your hand.

And when I touch you I feel happy inside.
It’s such a feeling that my love
I can’t hide, I can’t hide, I can’t hide.

Yeh, you’ve got that something,
I think you’ll understand.
When I’ll feel that something
I want to hold your hand,
I want to hold your hand,
I want to hold your hand.
posted by orange clock at 5:28 AM on December 4, 2004


This makes me ill.

Not ill in a good way.
posted by bwg at 5:34 AM on December 4, 2004


Regarding psmealey's comment:

Isn't that why we're talking about it and why it's a positive thing? And isn't your point the reason for the post?
posted by rhizome23 at 5:46 AM on December 4, 2004


No self-respecting hip hop head says "whilst."
posted by E_B_A at 5:53 AM on December 4, 2004


nthdegx and furiousgeorge have echoes my first reactions: although this ALMOST owns its place as an outsiders' critique of hiphop, and although the writer clearly is not all _that_ new of a jack, he's overstepped his bounds. This is where he really crosses the line:

"perhaps my hopes for a racially unattached hip-hop, where only the music and the MC's ability and personality matter, is both naive and potentially a setback for the black community. Yet in their need to keep their music, and themselves, united, they are holding on to both the past and the populist present too tightly, stymying themselves and their art, limiting what could be a liberating outlet for all the facets of their souls to superficial party music presided over by ineloquent, aggressive stereotypes. "

When you're talking about race, and you shift from talking about communities to talking about "them" as a nebulous entity with uniform goals and "needs", you've crossed a very thick line. And when you further make a judgement about that group, you're over another, even more telling line.

As a white rapper, this is an interesting and on-going conversation for me. I think this author did make some cogent points, especially about Eminem, and what the place of the white male is in an artform that is as inherently revolutionary as hiphop. I grew up in the suburbs, but they don't define my experience in the way it defines some peoples', in a way I've been even more fortunate than that base level, having had the opportunity and the support to travel a lot and construct an identity that almost excludes the suburbs as home in a big way. Does that make me more "hiphop"? No. Not at all. And in a big way, it's a huge part of white privilege to be able to choose your culture. And I've seen so many white people flirt with hiphop (usually with no analysis of the racial implications and with no sense of the broader arc of hiphop's rich heritage and history) and then walk away, switching genres as many of my white friends and I myself have done over the years.

But hiphop feels like home in a way that none of those other attempts have. I don't know if I can explain that. But the founding fathers of hiphop didn't set up any race-related standards for "membership" in hiphop culture - in fact, many of them respond to such ideas with a certain amount of indignance. What hiphop SHOULD exclude, though, and this paraphrases things that I have read by Afrika Baambataa, is racism. And in a white supremacist culture, white people bring racism and white supremacy into communities they enter unless they are careful not to - and few white Americans have the understanding of their privilege and identity that is required to be so intentional about how they move their weight around.

The result is a disconnect in hiphop culture, and it's a very fucked-up balance: mainstream hiphop culture, what you see on MTV and on the radio is, for the most part, NOT the voice of urban youth or anything that I would consider to be "hiphop". What we see on MTV is a version of hiphop that is filtered through the white supremacist marketing machine (which is, of course, built to sell products and culture to white people with disposable income and the typical white American fetishization for that balance between the safe (contained) and "exotic", which has great implications in any discussion of racism in and of itself).

However, urban youth don't have the same level of access to the internet that is basically keeping the underground, global hiphop scene alive and vibrant. Many youth of color are recieving this distorted, racist version of their culture and don't have the benefit of the influences or perspective to understand that what they are seeing is not real at all. So there's a split, almost two hiphops: one that has been hijacked by a more privileged, largely white crowd, largely on the internet, and the one that is still urban and independant (largely, from what I've seen, centered in individual city communities with not as much networking as the Internet scene is used to) but which is being poisoned from the youngest generation-up by white cultural distortion and racist imagery that urban youth are being bombarded with. It's a pretty dystopian situation, not at all the cultural bohemia that white hipster culture wants us to percieve it as. The part of hiphop that is within most of these white folks' awareness is very comfortable - for them. But we white folks who want to be part of this culture are not doing our jobs to be PART of it, rather than take control of it.

Billy "Upski" Wimsatt wrote a great essay for the Source in the 90s about how white folks were going to do to hiphop what they did to jazz and rock. It's well on its way to happening. And it's happening because white folks just aren't owning the situation / are not equipped to see it for what it is.

sigh. /frustration.

OK, I'm done rambling.

BTW, there's absolutely nothing wrong with Aesop Rock. I'd like to hear some reasoning as to why he's not a great MC other than "his voice is too nasal" or "he uses too many words". Some of his songs are great, some of them are not, but he is a poet in a truly original way. In February he's releasing an EP that comes with his entire lyrical catalogue from Float to present... check that out with an open mind. I just don't think you'll be able to front.
posted by Embryo at 6:30 AM on December 4, 2004 [1 favorite]


Oh my. Chicobangs' suggestion is the high point of this thread*. I'd never heard of Greg Tate, but the man just rinsed a whole lot of point-missing and point-not-making out of my mouth. Try these.

*Actually, on preview, Embryo's post is the high point now, but go read Greg Tate anyway.
posted by climalene at 6:36 AM on December 4, 2004


An inconvenient fact, which undercuts much of that horribly overwritten essay's argument about the cultural significance of hip-hop for communities of color:

The overwhelming majority of mainstream hip-hop listeners and record-buyers are white teenagers craving exotic "authenticity."

Much of the ridiculous macho gangsta posing in big-money rap and hip-hop production and promotion is strategically aimed squarely at that "authenticity-seeking" market. This is often cynically referred to as "keeping it real."

Follow these thoughts to their logical conclusion and much (though certainly not all) modern hip-hop can quickly be understood as no more "culturally significant" than a sad modern-day minstrel show.

The always interesting Urban Think Tank ran a critical essay several years ago, "The White Boy Shuffle," well worth reading (or re-reading.)

on preview: Embryo says a lot of what I'm talking about much better than I did.
posted by enrevanche at 6:47 AM on December 4, 2004


I've read better articles on hip-hop. Frankly i still don't understand the big hooplah about Jay-Z.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:02 AM on December 4, 2004


The overwhelming majority of mainstream hip-hop listeners and record-buyers are white teenagers craving exotic "authenticity."

It's amazing how quickly you shifted from fact to opinion in this sentence. To be completely accurate you'd have to remove the last few words, but to get closer to the mark you could change it to something like "... white teenagers craving music they enjoy."

I think the suggestion that white (or non-black for that matter) people listen to hip-hop in order to acquire some kind of "coolness" or cred is absurd and inherently racist. Sure, you can point to some examples of this, but your generalization reveals more about your own thought process than anything in the world outside your nervous system.

Hip-hop is a vibrant and inspiring musical form. Why is it that only black people can listen to it with any kind of "authenticity"?
posted by botono9 at 7:13 AM on December 4, 2004


no one's saying white people can't listen to hiphop without being racist. we're just saying that most white people don't understand how their expectations are colored by racism and by white supremacy, and are therefore unable to listen to hiphop without tokenizing and holding it up in a racist way. this doesn't have to do with my mindset, it has to do with white supremacy and how it pervades white American culture.
posted by Embryo at 7:15 AM on December 4, 2004


No self-respecting hip hop head says "whilst."

Yeah, they'd say "whilstizzle".

Because in order to enjoy a genre of music you have to change your entire personality to match it, right? Isn't this the behavior, changing one's lifestyle to match a recently-acquired musical fancy, that gets young white men mocked?
posted by botono9 at 7:17 AM on December 4, 2004


I stopped reading when he dissed Nas.
posted by hughbot at 7:19 AM on December 4, 2004


"no one's saying white people can't listen to hiphop without being racist. we're just saying that most white people don't understand how their expectations are colored by racism and by white supremacy,"

How about, some white people just know good music when they hear it? I said my reaction devolved into racial stereotypes earlier but that was on another specific question.

White people can appreciate hip hop without questions about race having anything to do with it. Everyone likes good music.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:35 AM on December 4, 2004


Interesting essay, though I stopped listening to hiphop a couple of decades ago so I have no opinions on the merits of the argument. (Seemed like all the tunefulness was jettisoned in favor of beats and rage. I know, I know, another clueless white boy.)

Embryo, a very impressive comment; I have a couple of questions. When you say "What hiphop SHOULD exclude, though... is racism," do you include black racism, or are you one of those who believe only whites can be racist? Not making any prejudgments, just curious.

And with regard to this:

about how white folks were going to do to hiphop what they did to jazz and rock

What exactly did white folks do to jazz? (I understand more where the rock statement is coming from.) There have always been lame white imitators, but they've never been considered representative of the music (except to some extent during the swing era), and there have always been white musicians who participated at the highest level. The drastic decline in jazz's popularity after WWII is due mainly to the changeover to bebop, an inherently (and deliberately) anti-popular music created by black musicians. It was Miles who turned his back on the audience while he was creating his amazing music, and Ornette pushed his jazz even farther away from what the average listener could accept. I don't see the white aspect here.

No self-respecting hip hop head says "whilst."

Everyone in the UK says "whilst." Would you be happier if Brits writing about hiphop tried to use American black dialect so as to keep it real? Sheesh.
posted by languagehat at 7:45 AM on December 4, 2004


furiousxgeorge, i disagree: to talk about hiphop is to talk about race.

languagehat: because racism is a system of oppression and is maintained by the oppressors over the oppressed, i believe that only white folks can be racist, as part of the oppressive element. people of color may harbor racial prejudice, but it's not racism, it's something that is a reaction -to- racism. calling it 'reverse racism' is also fallacious in my mind because it overlooks the basic fact that racism is maintained by white people and white culture, something that people of color have no hand in or control over. specifically, i'm saying that racism is something that white people bring in to hiphop culture unless they know enough to know how to -not- do that.

white people commoditized jazz, and although not to the extent that they did rock, i think the most telling part of it is that most modern jazz musicians are white suburban high school music students who learn a version of jazz culture that is diluted to varying extents. to be honest, i'm not exactly up on how it got to that point, but i have a sense that it has a lot to do with racism, and at least in its modern manifestations it is enveloped within racist suburban bubbles.
posted by Embryo at 8:04 AM on December 4, 2004


Really, I am so bored with rap, hip-hop and the like. When I first got turned on to Public Enemy through "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" I was blown away. But since then it's pretty well been "less of the same" -- there just doesn't seem to have been any significant progress.

As a musician, if I stop listening to the words, I hear cookie-cutter beats and blah blah blah blah blah. Very few of these rappers really sound very excited about their material. Their voices appear unexpressive and monotone to me. I'm unimpressed by their command of rhythm -- some of the supposedly great rappers like Eminem don't appear to have much feeling for rhythm at all, I don't think that they're "out"(*), I just think that they don't know where the beat really is.

There's little or no attempt to arrange anything -- they just turn on the beats and perhaps mix a few tracks in and out so you don't get TOO bored.

And if I DO listen to the lyrics, I hear all this lame, self-centered, bad doggerel by people most of whom have no feel for the language at all. Contrast this Eninem lyric with er, er, this Bjork song or this Mr Bungle song.

Note that the Bjork song is more or less the same time length as the Eminem song while having a tiny fraction of the lyrics... but Bjork sings each word as it's the most important thing in the universe, forcing you to think through the implications of each syllable.

The Mr Bungle song is done at about the speed of Eminem but in a multiplicity of different character voices -- like a whirlwind dive through an amusement park, with different rhythms tripping over each other on top of a killer rhythm section.

And I might add, in those last two songs there is a lot more to listen to than the lyrics -- in the Eminem album, you've got a funky drum line that doesn't change ever and that's about it.

I'm sure I've convinced not a single person here but if this inspires one person to go out and get some music that expands their boundaries and makes them a little higher then my job is done.

(* -- deliberately not on the beat. But you need to know where the beat is to be "out")
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:54 AM on December 4, 2004


because racism is a system of oppression and is maintained by the oppressors over the oppressed, i believe that only white folks can be racist

Even ignoring the fact that this is a pretty non-orthodox definition of racism, if you are going to approach racism from the perspective of cultural systems, it seems strange to focus on the dominant political culture as being the only one that can have an effect. Is hip-hop not a culture in itself, with its own power structures and economics and potential institutional prejudices? That a set of characteristic behaviours can be identified in the dominant culture (in this case, institutional racial oppression) doesn't rule out the possibility of identical characteristics can also be present in subsidiary or opposing cultures. That would be akin to suggesting that, say, 'local government' isn't actually involved with governing people, or that in high-school, only the jocks can bully people.
posted by flashboy at 9:04 AM on December 4, 2004


it would be akin to those things if racism wasn't an all-encompassing system of categorization. it doesn't just affect one groups' identity, it affects every single individual within our society. it can't be broken down further than that; doing so is oftentimes just a convenient way to ignore the larger picture.
posted by Embryo at 9:45 AM on December 4, 2004


White people commoditized hiphop, too. You think it ain't white guys who popularized the music? You think it ain't white guys who run the business at the top? You think RIAA and the major labels aren't rich white men's clubs?

I sure figure it's white at the top.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:46 AM on December 4, 2004


I sure figure it's white at the top.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:46 AM CST on December 4


Next thing you'll tell me is major hip hop magazines like The Source and XXL are run by white people.
posted by orange clock at 10:00 AM on December 4, 2004


"It has also found him scribed on the covers of hiphop magazines as the greatest living rapper, which always makes me laugh and think of how predisposed white supremacy has made even colored journalists crown any white man who takes a Black art form to the bank, to mo' money than Shine ever seen, as the greatest who ever lived."

[from the suggested Tate link] Doesn't this seem to cross similar lines, Embryo?
posted by pabanks46 at 10:28 AM on December 4, 2004


Would you be happier if Brits writing about hiphop tried to use American black dialect so as to keep it real? Sheesh.

but Ali G does talk like that!
posted by matteo at 10:29 AM on December 4, 2004


a few comments...

Embryo, good god boy, good hip hop is about where you come from, and what your life has been, and if you lack a good life story you better be able to fake a good one. You sound like an overcompensating white guy who is lost, grasping for a culture that you accept, and that will accept you. I'd suggest some therapy, so you can come to grips with the fact that you are just a white boy from the burbs, and then you could write a rap song all about seeing a shrink because you're a confused white boy, that'd probably be the first heartfelt lyric you've ever written.


lupus_yonderboy, Bjork is annoying, and you're a stereotypical music snob.


And this talk about how the music industry is white supremacist is laughable, as long as they can package it and sell it they don't care what color it is, the people in the music industry like their big houses, and fancy cars, they're green supremacist.
posted by jbou at 10:34 AM on December 4, 2004


Naturally, a good life story is all about dealing drugs, beating whores, and bling-bling.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:28 AM on December 4, 2004


Embryo, good god boy, good hip hop is about where you come from, and what your life has been...

Thanks for defining "Hip Hop," ass.

I'd suggest some therapy, so you can come to grips with the fact that you are just a white boy from the burbs, and then you could write a rap song all about seeing a shrink because you're a confused white boy, that'd probably be the first heartfelt lyric you've ever written.

Paraphrase: "If you were black, I'd have no problem with you being an mc. I think hip hop is for black people and rock music is for white people, and anything outside of the narrow racial constraints out my musical classification is false."

Nothing to see here.
posted by iamck at 11:44 AM on December 4, 2004


Also: Music appreciation is opinion, so please, everyone, quit trying to dictate what you like and don't like as evidence of a cultural phenomena.
posted by iamck at 11:47 AM on December 4, 2004


I didn't get the point of the essay (too much dancing about architecture, I suppose), but I do want to give a quick shout out to 3 Feet High and Rising and Straight Outta Compton. And what the heck, I'll throw in Lose Yourself, Fear of a Black Planet, Paul's Boutique and Black Sunday, too. Good stuff. Some black, some white, some Jewish, some latino. Hmm.
posted by bigbigdog at 11:57 AM on December 4, 2004


Also: Music appreciation is opinion, so please, everyone, quit trying to dictate what you like and don't like as evidence of a cultural phenomena.

Word.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 12:11 PM on December 4, 2004


people of color may harbor racial prejudice, but it's not racism, it's something that is a reaction -to- racism.

So if a rich Hispanic person is prejudiced toward poor black people, it's not racism because it's really just a reaction to racist white people? That is the theory that you have and which is yours and what it is, too?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 12:30 PM on December 4, 2004


i believe that only white folks can be racist

And I believe it's incredible that people can actually hold this thought in their head without it exploding. In twenty years, when the Hispanic population outnumbers the White, will racism still be a white problem? Is racism impossible in China?

racism is a system of oppression and is maintained by the oppressors over the oppressed

There's a lot of ways to oppress someone. Having power could mean "I am not going to give you a loan because of your race" just as easily as it could mean "We're going to sodomize you because you're smaller than we are and there are more of us."

the basic fact that racism is maintained by white people and white culture, something that people of color have no hand in or control over

Just incredible.

white people commoditized jazz

People commoditize things they think they can make a buck off of. In the early part of this century, the overwhelming majority of people in any position to commoditize it were white. These days, black producers and musicians are all just as willing to cash in as their white contemporaries.

most modern jazz musicians are white suburban high school music students who learn a version of jazz culture that is diluted to varying extents.

Pray tell, what is "jazz culture"? Is this anything like "blues culture?"
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:00 PM on December 4, 2004


So if a rich Hispanic person is prejudiced toward poor black people, it's not racism because it's really just a reaction to racist white people?

Depends on your working definition of racism. The modified definitions take into account the difference in being someone with racial prejudice as opposed to someone with racial prejudice backed by a power differential and an institution.

/digress
posted by iamck at 1:01 PM on December 4, 2004


iamck, did I say hip hop is just for black people? no. I said that Embryo sounds like a lost little white boy biting off pieces of other people's culture in order to have an identity, I think it's sad that he can't come up with his own identity. White rappers that are good have their own identity, their own niche, spouting out politically correct Def poetry jam lines is sad, you end up sounding like that idiot Danny Hoch from the movie Whiteboyz.
posted by jbou at 1:22 PM on December 4, 2004


i haven't heard a lot of freshness in hiphop lately, although it's possible i may have missed a lot ... the beats seem to be simpler, the rappers don't seem to have a feel for what they're saying as a musical instrument, and the samples or musical phrases are pretty ordinary ... like other forms of music, it seems to have gotten conservative and formula ridden

it's time for something new, i think
posted by pyramid termite at 1:32 PM on December 4, 2004


bot: I was joking around... it's okay...
posted by E_B_A at 1:59 PM on December 4, 2004


most modern jazz musicians are white suburban high school music students

Wow, you don't know anything about jazz, do you? Now I'm starting to wonder how much you know about anything.
posted by languagehat at 2:11 PM on December 4, 2004


Yes, hip hop, much like punk, has the dilemma that they are both exploited by the mainstream to completely dillute the meaning. It's annoying.
posted by asbates2 at 2:11 PM on December 4, 2004


jbou, i welcome you to go read my lyrics, they're on my website. click my profile. i own exactly what my identity is, THAT is the basis for genuine music, in my opinion.

as for the music industry being white supremacist, yes, you're right that it's about money - because we live in a racist system, whites have more of it. that is the epitome of white supremacy. put the pieces together, friend.

Civil_Disobedient: Consider that "race" is a concept invented by white people, which revolves around only two groups of people: white people, and non-white people, or people of color as most such communities would prefer (rather than being defined as "the other", which is part of white supremacy). There is no "racism" between people of color, although there may be ethnic prejudice. (Ethnicity and race are not the same, ethnicity is about cultural heritage, which is not a social construct but an analysis of social constructs, while race refers specifically to one social construct that exists only where white people live). If you are that flabbergasted by my analysis, consider the above, and consider that if you hadn't heard those things before, no one had ever really explained race or racism to you honestly (or knowledgably) before.
posted by Embryo at 2:51 PM on December 4, 2004


languagehat: i'm not saying that most modern well-known jazz players are high school students. but per capita? yes. thousands of high schools have active jazz programs. I would be shocked if there were half as many professional jazz musicians as there are amateur ones.
posted by Embryo at 2:52 PM on December 4, 2004


artmitage: yeah, that's exactly what it is. it's all part of the binary of race and the history of racism as created and demonstrated by white folks. there is no getting around white ownership of racism in America.
posted by Embryo at 2:56 PM on December 4, 2004


Two things:

One, Embryo's comment is right on. Read it again. And Aesop Rock kicks my ass. There's genius in that kid.

Two, Not to further pimp Greg Tate, but this book gave me a context for modern American culture I still use. The guy can fucking write.

As far as other writers working this beat, Michael Eric Dyson is pretty good. Is there anyone else I'm just not remembering?
posted by chicobangs at 2:56 PM on December 4, 2004


Upski.
posted by iamck at 3:02 PM on December 4, 2004


I said that Embryo sounds like a lost little white boy biting off pieces of other people's culture in order to have an identity, I think it's sad that he can't come up with his own identity.

You're simultaneously asserting that there are distinct cultures that must pracitice "identies" within the accepted range of their own culture, while also asserting the importance of "coming up with [your] own identity."

Which is it? Because I'm inclined to think you wouldn't have a problem with Embryo playing in a knockoff indie rock band (or in any musical aptitude that you consider "white").
posted by iamck at 3:08 PM on December 4, 2004


I would be shocked if there were half as many professional jazz musicians as there are amateur ones.

Umm, there are more amateurs than professionals in lots of fields, from basketball to poetry.

Are you saying that the problem is that too many high school jazz musicians are white?
posted by Vidiot at 3:19 PM on December 4, 2004


This thread astounds me. Am I the only one who listens to music based on whether or not I like the way it sounds?
posted by b_thinky at 3:31 PM on December 4, 2004


From website: Embryo, a Boston MC and Producer, is tired of living in a world that is perpetually assulting the things he loves: honesty, compassion, equity in human relations, and the sanctity of music and art.

From MeFi: Consider that "race" is a concept invented by white people.... There is no "racism" between people of color...

All races are equal, except when they're not.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:06 PM on December 4, 2004


vidiot: you're right. i just think it is useful to look at cultural ownership as a general principle, and the number of jazz musicians who really own jazz culture (that is, understand its context) is much smaller than the ones who approach it from a eurocentric standpoint that does no justice to the sentiments behind it and the musical tradition it is a part of. it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.

b_thinky: there's that. aesthetic appreciation is crucial. but when we're talking about culture, i feel like i need to see it within the broader context in which it was created. one aspect of white privilege is being able to pick up and discard assimilated cultures, which i think is damaging both to the cultures that are being treated disrespectfully and to white culture which doesn't respect authenticity because it knows very little about what authenticity means.
posted by Embryo at 4:10 PM on December 4, 2004


five fresh fish: i feel like you're misunderstanding me in a fundamental way.

"racism" doesn't mean "prejudice against other ethnic groups". that's ethnic prejudice. "race" refers -specifically- to whites and non-whites. all races are inherently NOT equal, because that is the -essence- of race. it is a system to divide the haves from the have-nots.

just look at what whiteness is: it's totally made up. how many ethnicities are considered white? and look at how it's changed: when my irish ancestors came to this country, they were not considered to be white. they had to discard their culture in order to be considered white. this is a privileged ability that came with their skin color; it is much harder for people of color to 'pass' as white or to assimilate in such a way. and it sucks, and is indicative of racism, that there is such a force working to destroy unique cultures. multiculturalism is inherently in opposition to racism and the construct of race. race maintains only one dominant culture, period. its not a judgement on my part, it's an inherent quality of the construct.
posted by Embryo at 4:15 PM on December 4, 2004


Racism:

1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.

2. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.

Doesn't mention anything about power at all, because it's irrelevant. Of course, this all naturally begs the question that anthropologists have been grappling with for a few hundred years, which is, "What is race?" A topic far too broad to be dissected in this humble discussion forum.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:26 PM on December 4, 2004


what other topics would you consider to be 'too broad to be dissected in this humble discussion forum'?

also, the dictionary was written by whom? and that definition dates to when?

and like i have been trying to say, anthropologists may be grappling with what race is, but that doesn't mean that they don't understand the basic structure. which is the point of view that i have been maintaining here.
posted by Embryo at 4:28 PM on December 4, 2004


Race doesn't exist, except in the minds of those who find such a concept useful.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:56 PM on December 4, 2004


I think the point is, Embryo, that your definition of "racism" bears almost no relation to most other people's definition of racism. Which, given the way that language works, causes one or two problems when discussing issues around it. You say that "racism" doesn't mean "prejudice against other ethnic groups"… well, sorry, but when I say the word, and I think when most other people here say the word, that's pretty much exactly what it does mean.

Your argument as to why only white people can be racist seems largely circular to me (and presents the intriguing notion that racism doesn't even exist in most countries of the world), and I have to say I still don't fully understand what point you're trying to make. Your original comment was "What hiphop SHOULD exclude… is racism." Given that you're presenting a notion of racism that sounds like a sort of whites-only original sin - we are all tainted by it, and it requires a constant striving to be rid of it - you can see why your comments are easily interpreted as being, essentially, "what hiphop should exclude is white people." Which, given your profession, must be striking a lot of people as odd.

In fact, from most of your comments, your issues with how hip-hop is created, marketed and consumed seem to be far more about class than about race, or about mainstream versus underground as opposed to black versus white. By all means, have another go at explaining, but to me it seems that race is a classification you've applied to the situation to simplify it.

one aspect of white privilege is being able to pick up and discard assimilated cultures

Hip-hop is a largely sample-based music form, yes? I wonder if you've thought about how (say) soft-rock fans feel about the appropriation of parts their culture for nothing more than a catchy hook, with no attempt to understand the context and authenticity of the culture from which it came?
posted by flashboy at 5:17 PM on December 4, 2004


Embryo, you've got hold of a useful concept and are running it into the ground by insisting that your understanding of racism is superior to that of dictionaries and everyone else here because, well, you know you're right, dammit. You'd be a lot more convincing if you said "Look, it's easy to equate black and white racism, but it's important to consider the power relations..." But I guess that would be boring, I mean Eurocentric.

one aspect of white privilege is being able to pick up and discard assimilated cultures, which i think is damaging both to the cultures that are being treated disrespectfully and to white culture which doesn't respect authenticity because it knows very little about what authenticity means.

But when black musicians pick up other cultures, they know all about the authenticity of what they're taking? When the first New Orleans jazz musicians appropriated brass-band music or Anthony Braxton appropriates classical styles, that's OK because... they're black? And therefore anything they do is OK, whereas anything white people do is bad, bad, bad? Do you see how simplistic, if not downright stupid, this is?
posted by languagehat at 5:25 PM on December 4, 2004


There is no "racism" between people of color...

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
posted by quonsar at 6:02 PM on December 4, 2004


white people commoditized jazz

Some people did, who may have been white.

Does this mean that Tribe and De La aren't real hip-hop?
posted by juiceCake at 6:04 PM on December 4, 2004


the dictionary was written by whom?

Obviously, by The Man.

and that definition dates to when?

It dates to today. Although I haven't checked it in a couple of hours, so maybe it's changed. [...] Nope.

Does this mean that Tribe and De La aren't real hip-hop?

And what about Vanilla Ice?!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:22 PM on December 4, 2004


Embryo, I checked out your music, not bad, your lyrics are typical of a democratic underground rant, but your flow is ok. Kind of an old school flavor in general.


You own your identity? You're defining yourself as a shallow liberal white rapper, now if you were an unabashed upper middle class white boy bitching about the keg being beat, and not getting any because your girl is puking from too many keg stands, you might have something.


My issue isn't white boys who rap it's what the person is rapping about. Embryo is taking general lefty rants and putting them to beats, that's hardly original, and neither are the nine billion love songs we hear every day, but at least I know that the singer has been in love and knows how it feels. When an upper middle class whiteboy is ranting about oil, dead Iraqis, and weeping Palestinians, but going home to his own brownstone in Boston MA, or spending the summer in CA making cool new friends, he loses me, kinda like writing a blues song without having experienced the blues.

You can try to change our country's policies by working in the political arena, but good rap music, like I said, is writing about what you've experienced, not about what you've read or watched in a documentary.
posted by jbou at 6:25 PM on December 4, 2004


I think you guys can settle this by just accepting that whatever I deem is "real hiphop" is in fact real hiphop and everything else is (c)rap.

Because I'm a white boy from da 'burbz.

REPRAZENT!
posted by E_B_A at 6:26 PM on December 4, 2004


1. Apartment of a friend of mine -- decent emcee, great drummer. Blackstar's Respiration comes on and he starts rapping along with it; I join in. We go all the way through, and then do the same with Thieves in the Night.

2. Corner table at a high school party, zit-faced multiracial kids spitting lines to beatbox while the stereo plays rock in the other room.

3. Walking to my car from the Detroit Electronic Music Festival. One of the streetlamps illuminates the bottom corner of building; huge modernist concrete geometry, and there's a dark-skinned guy in the corner, sitting on a sqaure protrusion, saying "something about that beat, man, it just ... I don't know. Something about that beat."

4. 5 asian teenagers playing their crew's raps from a minidisc. Some are great, some suck, but even the ones that suck try to pull off smooth controlled rhythmic complexity of the type vanilla ice (or, for that matter, run DMC) could never have comprehended.

5. Sitting listening to Brandon (can't remember his emcee name) spit the most fucking amazing lines I've ever heard. They go by fast enough to remind me of bebop, and the only part I can remember is "utopian potential in kinetic ideation".

Forget about culture. It's music. It makes you feel great; it makes you feel nostalgic; it makes you feel profound. It's art.

there just doesn't seem to have been any significant progress.

As a musician, if I stop listening to the words, I hear cookie-cutter beats and blah blah blah blah blah.

And I might add, in those last two songs there is a lot more to listen to than the lyrics -- in the Eminem album, you've got a funky drum line that doesn't change ever and that's about it.

...

the beats seem to be simpler


New beats do tend to be deceptively simple. They're also better, and, fundamentally, more complex. I'll be blunt: there's been a fuckload of progress in hiphop, and it's continuing; the genre is still on the upswing, and it's what your kids will be listening to. In 20 years rock will be where jazz is today (which is to say, single-digit market share and an incredibly rich past and good rock drummers doing hip-hop covers to pay the rent).

The reason it doesn't seem like there's been progress to you is that the progress is over your head (can't think of a more delicate way to phrase that). You don't understand new hip-hop. There's no shame in that; the New York Times doesn't understand it either (I remember reading their analysis of 50 Cent: it focused on the lyrics. 50 Cent, of course, got famous because he got shot, and because his songs were (thanks mostly to Dre) incredibly fun and catchy.)

Many youth of color are recieving this distorted, racist version of their culture and don't have the benefit of the influences or perspective to understand that what they are seeing is not real at all.

I'm not sure I agree with that. Black people living in major cities, at least, have access to a thriving underground tape and record scene that compares favorably to any file-sharing network. New hiphop bubbles up from that scene; the very very few accessible standouts in the crowd of brilliant new shit get radio play.
posted by Tlogmer at 6:43 PM on December 4, 2004


you're right. i just think it is useful to look at cultural ownership as a general principle, and the number of jazz musicians who really own jazz culture (that is, understand its context) is much smaller than the ones who approach it from a eurocentric standpoint that does no justice to the sentiments behind it and the musical tradition it is a part of. it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.

so....translation="your skin color determines whether you understand something"? This is how it reads to me, and I have gotta say I find that attitude to be downright bigoted if that's the case.

one aspect of white privilege is being able to pick up and discard assimilated cultures, which i think is damaging both to the cultures that are being treated disrespectfully and to white culture which doesn't respect authenticity because it knows very little about what authenticity means.

So black musicians shouldn't sample white ones? Or is it that white peoples' music just isn't authentic, no matter what they do?

Or is it that white peoples' music isn't authentic, except for yours?

languagehat nailed it -- your arguments can be reduced the absurd pretty easily. I thought your first comment was great, but then it seems to me that you've been shooting yourself in the foot in this thread ever since.

race maintains only one dominant culture, period. its not a judgement on my part, it's an inherent quality of the construct.

So, you're saying that if I disagree with you about this, you have the ability to define "race", but I don't?

See, words and concepts mean what we agree they mean. And it seems like the consensus is running against you here.

And, incidentally, I agree with Tlogmer. I cannot wait to see what great hip-hop comes out in the next, oh, twenty-five years.
posted by Vidiot at 9:04 PM on December 4, 2004


The reason it doesn't seem like there's been progress to you is that the progress is over your head (can't think of a more delicate way to phrase that). You don't understand new hip-hop.

Eh. I'm always open to new sounds, and if there's something you feel I should hear, lay it on me. I've been opened up to a lot of music I didn't like initially before: the first time I heard Ornette Coleman, I thought it was just plain wrong, but I listened to it till I figured it out more (I'm not a great jazz head but there's a lot of value there).

However, telling me that some music is "over my head" is probably a foolish idea on your part. I've spent an awful lot of time listening to, thinking about and playing music; this includes an awful lot of non-Western music, "difficult" music, "stupid" music, "weird" music, "poppy" music, "beat-oriented" music, "evil" music, "beautiful" music. I find hiphop bland and tedious and concerned with crass superficialities; I find the beats extremely limited; I find the performers to be almost pathologically self-absorbed and one-dimensional; but this isn't because of lack of musical sophistication on my part.

I might well be missing something; tell me what it is, don't just insult me, or I'll just assume that you have nothing.

Re-reading this thread, I see almost no discussion of the actual music; nor do I see recommendations of artists and titles to listen to. This rather bolsters my feeling that it's entirely a culture thing and not about music at all.

(Oh, and I have a single Bjork album, Vespertine -- but I think it's phenomenal, it's made me cry on more than one occasion. If you find that album boring then I'm sorry for you. I really don't know any of her other work; I quoted that one piece because it's strong, recent music that I thought people would know.)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:24 AM on December 5, 2004


Embryo, my Aesop Rock was no reflection on him, just as my J5 and Blackalicious comment was not a reflection on them. I'm a fan of both J5 and Blackalicious, Aesop less so, but I can appreciate him as an artist. J5 live was a site to see and I'm briefly met Numark and Chali2na.

The point of my comment was to preempt all the predictable "cool" recommendations that come up when white liberals discuss Hip Hop. I've also noticed the phenomenon of white kids flirting with Hip Hop only to give up on it when the next thing comes along; but I've also noticed those same white kids searching desperately for a talented, credible white rapper to obsess over. Fuck that. Aesop Rock is a good emcee -- not my bag -- but I can write a list of *more* talented black emcees that is as long as my arm, my leg and my stupid over-sized hip hop trousers.

Anyone saying they don't like how hip hop sounds now is, in my opinion, probably basing their point of view on precisely the MTV Hip Hop-lite that is broadcast on white-owned media. If you have ever liked any sort of hip hop in the past, I guarantee you there are artists working today that would appeal to you. If you want to email me, please do.
posted by nthdegx at 3:47 AM on December 5, 2004


Woah, there are a lot of ideas on the table here. I wrote a long post in response to some of them last night, which I guess I didn't give my browser enough time to send.. disappointing. Anyhow, here we go again.
I think the point is, Embryo, that your definition of "racism" bears almost no relation to most other people's definition of racism. Which, given the way that language works, causes one or two problems when discussing issues around it. You say that "racism" doesn't mean "prejudice against other ethnic groups"… well, sorry, but when I say the word, and I think when most other people here say the word, that's pretty much exactly what it does mean.
That's fine and true, and it definitely does present a challenge in my communicating my ideas to people - not that they are uniquely my ideas, other people who have posted here seem to be on the same page or at least to be familiar with this analysis of race. But I submit that this challenge in communicating the basic complexities of race is indeed a huge part of the problem of racism in the first place. Race and racism are complex topics that have a specific role in our society today, which the dictionary definition - and the general definition that is accepted among white people - ignores completely.
Your argument as to why only white people can be racist seems largely circular to me (and presents the intriguing notion that racism doesn't even exist in most countries of the world), and I have to say I still don't fully understand what point you're trying to make. Your original comment was "What hiphop SHOULD exclude… is racism." Given that you're presenting a notion of racism that sounds like a sort of whites-only original sin - we are all tainted by it, and it requires a constant striving to be rid of it - you can see why your comments are easily interpreted as being, essentially, "what hiphop should exclude is white people." Which, given your profession, must be striking a lot of people as odd.
Thanks for identifying this nuance. I'm not saying that racism is an "original sin" for white people; in fact that is a concept that I directly oppose. There seems to me to be basic truth in the idea that people ought to be born with clean slates - in fact, this is the same basic truth that serves as a foundation for anti-racism in the first place. People aren't born guilty.

What people ARE born with is a set of circumstances. In America today, for white people that set of circumstances is very different for people of color. Every individual, of course, has different circumstances - this idea doesn't contradict that one. But along lines of race (as well as along lines of class, gender, sexuality, and age, among others) there are circumstances that _every_ individual who is white experiences, and there are circumstances that _every_ person of color experiences. I see these basic truths - white privilege, racial dominance, and a legacy of oppression - as defining crucial aspects of experience and identity in America today.

Given that the morning I was born I was born into a world that lifts me up over others, despite the fact that I should have been born with a clean slate... and given that I believe that it is not just a duty to work towards justice but that human beings have an instinctual compulsion to do so when equipped with facts enough to have a sense of where justice resides... this isn't about sin or guilt. It's about seeking justice and building it up, holding it up, as a guideline towards how to be in healthier community with each other.

As for excluding racism from hiphop, although I think that it is difficult or impossible for white people to truly be non-racist, they can be anti-racist, and given that there will be racist whites in hiphop regardless of what people of color in hiphop think about that particular fact (they're not given an option, just as they are not given an option in the world at large), having white anti-racist allies is the only way to identify and unpack racism in the hiphop community. The hiphop community is one that I am trying to be accountable to as a white anti-racist ally, and I don't think that there really would be any place for me within it otherwise, other than one that is destructive and disrespectful.

Hiphop can and should be a community where racism is not an issue, where all people are equally empowered and equally connected to things that can serve as common ground for all people. But as long as there are whites who haven't deconstructed their ethnocentrism, as long as there are whites who pass over (as nthdegx noted) excellent and compelling MCs of color in order to listen to white MCs who they have to work less hard to understand, as long as there are whites who bring sublimated expectations of superiority into the hiphop community, hiphop will be a community under racial duress.
posted by Embryo at 7:07 AM on December 5, 2004



In fact, from most of your comments, your issues with how hip-hop is created, marketed and consumed seem to be far more about class than about race, or about mainstream versus underground as opposed to black versus white. By all means, have another go at explaining, but to me it seems that race is a classification you've applied to the situation to simplify it.


I don't think race and class are easily separated. All oppressions are linked, and race and class are two of the most interconnected. Race is a boundary that also includes class... whites on average have a lot more financial leverage and therefore power than people of color do on average, for a lot of reasons, some of which affect different ethnicities of color. The obvious example is of course slavery, which set the great American industrial machine in motion and built up the pocketbooks and savings accounts of white families across America, north and south. This alone was enough of an exploitation of the construct of race to give white people a huge amount of power over people of color in America.

Hip-hop is a largely sample-based music form, yes? I wonder if you've thought about how (say) soft-rock fans feel about the appropriation of parts their culture for nothing more than a catchy hook, with no attempt to understand the context and authenticity of the culture from which it came?

This is a totally valid point, one that is contentious and one to which I do not have the answer. Personally, I don't think soft rock, which is a creation of the profit-based music industry, has a lot of artistic value - in fact, it's fairly manipulative and dishonest music for the most part. But there certainly are few boundaries that are not okay to cross when sampling, regardless of your example. I do think it's something to be mindful of, however. I don't think that this example makes concerns about other cultural appropriation immaterial, though.
posted by Embryo at 7:14 AM on December 5, 2004


Embryo, you've got hold of a useful concept and are running it into the ground by insisting that your understanding of racism is superior to that of dictionaries and everyone else here because, well, you know you're right, dammit. You'd be a lot more convincing if you said "Look, it's easy to equate black and white racism, but it's important to consider the power relations..." But I guess that would be boring, I mean Eurocentric.

Thanks for the suggestion, but the phrase "black racism" is oxymoronic to me. Other than failing to own its white origin, the dictionary definition is fine, but since when do we use the dictionary to discuss a concept's implications?

But when black musicians pick up other cultures, they know all about the authenticity of what they're taking? When the first New Orleans jazz musicians appropriated brass-band music or Anthony Braxton appropriates classical styles, that's OK because... they're black? And therefore anything they do is OK, whereas anything white people do is bad, bad, bad? Do you see how simplistic, if not downright stupid, this is?

No, it's not that simple, and I never said that. However, "it's important to consider the power relations". White culture as the mainstream, dominant culture, has a lot greater ability to drown out and/or dilute the potency of other cultures via assimilation and commercialization than other cultures have to dilute it. Do you think Anthony Braxton damages classical music styles by borrowing them and filtering them through his cultural lens? Do you think Kenny G damages jazz styles by borrowing those and putting those through his cultural (or profit-eyed) lens?
posted by Embryo at 7:20 AM on December 5, 2004


Embryo, I checked out your music, not bad, your lyrics are typical of a democratic underground rant, but your flow is ok. Kind of an old school flavor in general.

Thanks. It's interesting because I really don't know that many "democratic underground" rappers, could you give me some leads?

You own your identity? You're defining yourself as a shallow liberal white rapper, now if you were an unabashed upper middle class white boy bitching about the keg being beat, and not getting any because your girl is puking from too many keg stands, you might have something.

Think what you want of a progressive white rapper, but I'm not a fucking frat boy just because I'm white. My identity as an activist is in direct opposition to that aspect of white culture, in fact. I'm telling my truth, not making some stupid shit up to justify other stupid shit and/or sell records. I'm not trying to be popular with you, and I'm not trying to be accountable to you.

My issue isn't white boys who rap it's what the person is rapping about. Embryo is taking general lefty rants and putting them to beats, that's hardly original, and neither are the nine billion love songs we hear every day, but at least I know that the singer has been in love and knows how it feels.

Sorry, the more I read of what you write the clearer it becomes that you have nothing to say. I'm not claiming to suffer, I'm not claiming to be the one who is oppressed. I'm claiming my role as the unwilling oppressor, and you can trust me when I say that I know how that feels.

You can try to change our country's policies by working in the political arena, but good rap music, like I said, is writing about what you've experienced, not about what you've read or watched in a documentary.

I'ma do that too, actually. I write about my experiences every day and the way I interact with the world around me. If my ideas don't seem interesting or well-expressed to you, that's fine. I claim exactly where I stand and what I see, and I'm not going to apologize for that.
posted by Embryo at 7:28 AM on December 5, 2004


"Embryo, my Aesop Rock was no reflection on him, just as my J5 and Blackalicious comment was not a reflection on them. I'm a fan of both J5 and Blackalicious, Aesop less so, but I can appreciate him as an artist. J5 live was a site to see and I'm briefly met Numark and Chali2na."

Bzzz. Let me try that again.

Embryo, my Aesop Rock *comment* was no reflection on him, just as my J5 and Blackalicious *comments were* not a reflection on them. I'm a fan of both J5 and Blackalicious, Aesop less so, but I can appreciate him as an artist. J5 live was a *sight* to see and *I* briefly met Numark and Chali2na.

The hangover is gone, now, thanks.
posted by nthdegx at 7:30 AM on December 5, 2004


I'm not sure I agree with that. Black people living in major cities, at least, have access to a thriving underground tape and record scene that compares favorably to any file-sharing network. New hiphop bubbles up from that scene; the very very few accessible standouts in the crowd of brilliant new shit get radio play.

This is true, but the monolith of white culture is still a presence in this community no matter what kind of structures are in place to subvert it. And this has an effect, and it needs to be taken into account.

so....translation="your skin color determines whether you understand something"? This is how it reads to me, and I have gotta say I find that attitude to be downright bigoted if that's the case.

We understand what we understand because of our experiences and how we can relate to things. Culture is a product of a community, and of a community's experiences... white people have a different set of experiences than people of color do in this country, and this just cannot -not- affect how we percieve and understand the experiences of people of color as expressed through any means including hiphop. It's not about skin color, it's about race, because race is about everything.

So, you're saying that if I disagree with you about this, you have the ability to define "race", but I don't?

The dictionary holds a reductionist definition of race. You can look at my ideas as adding to the definition or as an analysis of how race works in our society; either way, defining race as "not what Embryo thinks it is" isn't something I know how to have a discussion about.
posted by Embryo at 7:36 AM on December 5, 2004


Do you think Anthony Braxton damages classical music styles by borrowing them and filtering them through his cultural lens? Do you think Kenny G damages jazz styles by borrowing those and putting those through his cultural (or profit-eyed) lens?

No and no. I am by no means a fan of Kenny G, but I don't see how he's damaging anything (other than some people's delicate sensibilities); he's making a certain kind of "easy listening" music which has analogs throughout the history of recorded music and which a lot of people will always respond to, because listening to more demanding music requires a certain amount of work. So what? Other people's fondness for Wonder Bread doesn't keep me from enjoying tastier stuff. People should be able to enjoy whatever they like.

Look, you seem to be an intelligent and thoughtful guy, and you've shown exemplary restraint in this thread, where a lot of people (including me) have made some pretty dismissive comments that could have led you to give up and start lobbing insults back. Furthermore, I think your general take on things is an important corrective to the general American attitude of "yeah, there used to be a race problem in this country, but that's all taken care of, so rock on, dude!" But you remind me of a number of people I've known who have discovered One Big Thing that seemed so important to them that they talked about it endlessly, used it to explain everything, and refused to compromise with other people's definitions or world views. Those people quickly get marginalized; nobody wants to listen to them or interact with them outside their tight little circle of devotees of the One Big Thing. My advice, which you're free to ignore and probably will: step back a bit from the struggle against racism and allow yourself to share some of the experiences that are important to other people -- not as object lessons in the ubiquity of racism, but just for their own sweet sake. Watch the Simpsons; read poetry (by which I don't mean rap lyrics); bake bread; get lost in some of the MetaFilter links posted by matteo or hama7 or other masters of finding the Best of the Web... become somebody other than The White Anti-Racist Rapper. The more you do that, the more you'll be able to connect with people without coming off as a sanctimonious preacher, which means your ideas will actually have some impact. You don't want to become [insert name of mocked and ignored MeFite here], do you?
posted by languagehat at 8:01 AM on December 5, 2004


hahah, thanks nthdegx. I agree with your analysis for the most part.

It's interesting though - and this gets at what lupus is talking about somewhat - originally, emcees weren't the focus of hiphop. They were just there to big up the deejays and to get the crowd pumped. This thread has mostly been about emcees, but I think taking production - and the other aspects of musicianship besides rapping that are a part of hiphop culture - into account is really important. I think that criticism of hiphop's musical development is valid, but I think that there are plenty of artists pushing the envelope. The problem is, and maybe this is a part of a white privilege to be more focused on beats than message, a lot of these artists _are_ white participants in hiphop. El-P's beats, regardless of what one thinks of him as an emcee, are ridiculously interesting and for the most part, extremely progressive.

But check out the new Nas album for a few pretty awesome new beats. He's back on top of his game, or at least as close as he is likely to return to... I'm digesting this album right now and am loving it. Check out MF Doom's new album, MM Food. Check out his project with madlib, madvillain. Interesting and progressive beats along with top-notch emceeing. Although, I was a little disappointed with Viktor Vaughn 2.

Mr. Lif is from Boston. He and Akrobatik are definitely Boston's best emcees, and actually are kind of a bridge between the gap in the hiphop community. Their new outfit, the Perceptionists, have put out an awesome mixtape called The Razor. This is worth checking out.

Back into the realm of the is-it-right-to-call-this-hiphop stuff, although anticon's label roster seems to well reflect the previously discussed tendency for white kids to flirt with hiphop and then get bored and move towards something else, there is something to be said for the interesting things that dose-one, jel, and sole are doing with hiphop, even though sometimes it is unrecognizable as such. Themselves is a great project.

In Chicago there is a new label coming up called Galapagos 4. Their standout MC is Qwel, and their standout producer in my opinion is Meaty Ogre. However, the new album by Qwel and Maker, the Harvest, is extremely awesome. Maker's beats are lo-fi and he is oldschool in his methods, but his beats are so well put-together. The little details impress me as a producer, but the entire package is aesthetically extremely powerful. Qwel is a fire-and-brimstone kind of guy, so his lyrics aren't the make-me-feel-better-about-my-ideas type of good, but they are challenging and compelling, and his flow (more high-energy on The Harvest than his earlier works), while it takes a few listens to penetrate, is rhythmically sharp. Qwel is also a part of Typical Cats, probably G4's best-known act. Their first album is an underground classic. They also have a new one that I haven't listened to enough times to offer an informed opinion of, but it's probably also dope.

And Sage Francis, a great writer, poet and MC, sometimes associated with anticon, has a new album coming out in February that is really quite good, with some really interesting beats from a bunch of different cats including Alias from anticon.

The question remains, though, which of hiphop's visionaries has the right to pull the hiphop community along with them?
I think hiphop should and will evolve. And I'm looking forward to it. But it would be a shame if the white hiphop heads took their new-jack understanding of the culture in one direction, and the people of color, to whom the white heads had been unaccountable, took theirs in another. Hiphop will undoubtedly branch off, but if it does so along lines of race and class, it will be anothe sad failure of white people in tackling racism and preventing its effects that make communities unhealthy and unwhole.
posted by Embryo at 8:18 AM on December 5, 2004 [1 favorite]


Instead of working to refute Embryo's unorthodox ideas, why not work to understand them? Rather than focusing on the presentation of his ideas, put that aside and find the truth in them and sit with it for a while.They represent a remarkable and rare opportunity for white folks to explore your own unexamined assumptions and prejudices.

If you've not come to terms with how your white skin affords you countless privileges inside and out (up, down, left, right, forwards and backwards) then he's got something to say to you.
posted by sudama at 8:40 AM on December 5, 2004


languagehat, i disagree- i think people should be able to make whatever choices they like, but i don't think that needs to (or, realistically, does) have a bearing on what choices are healthiest or best. kenny g does a disservice to the cultures he exploits for profit and to the people who listen to his music without the context that allows them to understand what he's doing to them.

as for 'stepping back' from the anti-racist struggle, it's not an option for me - precisely because it is an option for me. that option is part of racism, not taking it is the most important part of anti-racism.

don't worry, i'm a complex individual, i'm not closed-minded and i've got a lot more to offer this community than just my analysis of racism. however, i'm going to speak on my analysis of racism when i feel that it is important to do so. i have to say that your assumption that I can't possibly do anything besides talk about racism (in a thread about hiphop) is odd and makes me uncomfortable.

i'll keep following this fpp. for now, though, i'ma go get some breakfast with my girlfriend and then head home and watch last week's episode of Sealab, which I missed (the Simpsons aren't doing it for me anymore, to be honest), so I'll be all ready for tonight's, haha. Thanks for having such a good discussion about these things, y'all.
posted by Embryo at 8:47 AM on December 5, 2004


despite the fact that I should have been born with a clean slate

Er, why? Why shouldn't you be born with the advantages that your ancestors busted their asses to gain? Was their motivation to succeed not partially based on providing their descendents an advantage? If everyone had to start from scratch, all clean slates, why would they bother to excel?

Not saying that one view is better than the other, but that there is a side to the born-with-advantage that you might want to consider.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:13 AM on December 5, 2004


Instead of working to refute Embryo's unorthodox ideas, why not work to understand them?

Please. It's not a matter of "understanding" them, and it's condescending to assume that the commenters here need to "work" to do so; it's a matter of balancing racism against other forms of analysis, which each of us is capable of doing for ourselves, thank you very much. Embryo clearly has a lot to contribute here, but he's not the prophet speaking words of wisdom from the mountaintop, he's just another guy with opinions.

Embryo: Apologies if I came off sounding like I thought you weren't a complex individual or couldn't do anything besides talk about racism; it's just that you seemed unwilling to alter your approach to interact more effectively with the commenters here, who clearly were not responding well to you. By all means keep on speaking out. Like I said, you reminded me of some people I've known; I wasn't assuming you were that way. And we'll just have to agree to disagree about Kenny G; what would you do, force people to listen only to what's "good for them"? Anybody who makes any money off art "exploits for profit" if you insist on looking at it that way; I happen to think that's a reductive way of looking at it. (Do you not accept money for your CDs?)
posted by languagehat at 9:47 AM on December 5, 2004


sudama - I don't think most people here are blindly setting out to refute or dismiss Embryo's ideas - I think the discussion's be open, honest and considered, and I'd second languagehat in thanking Embryo for keeping it civil. If we come out of it disagreeing - as I do - that's not because we haven't given his ideas a chance. I just don't agree. (But, hey - thanks for pointing out this remarkable and rare opportunity to examine my assumptions. I haven't done that for, oooh, a day at least.)

I'm not sure we can go much further with the debate in its current form, because we've got down to the basic assumptions underpinning it all. Embryo believes racism is something inherent and exclusive to white people. I understand why he says that, but I cannot agree with it. Embryo sees a strong white/coloured power differential that is all-encomapassing, and which has precedence over all other possible power differentials. Once again, I get the historical and social reasons why he believes this, but fundamentally diagree.

A final couple of points. Embryo, you refer to white culture as a "monolith", and I suspect that it's that assumption which colours (no pun) the rest of your views. And it's surely a false assumption; or, more precisely, it's meaningless. White culture may be dominant and monolithic, in the same sense that the anti-legalising-paedophilia movement is the most powerful political block currently in existence. You can make that classification, but it ignores so many other distinctions as to be utterly useless in discussing anything of substance. Seriously, if you think white culture's monolithic, just try walking into a industrial metal club wearing a Belle & Sebastian t-shirt. (Or, y'know, a "Bush Rocks" t-shirt in a Massachusetts humanities depeartment)

And as to the appropriation of other cultures - I wasn't trying to imply that hip-hop's appropriation of other cultures rendered cultural appropriation irrelevant. Rather, my point is that I think cultural appropriation is what has always been best about music, and about literature and art and film and pottery and everything, everything. I'd contend that hip-hop is about the appropriation of other cultures far more than most other musical forms, and that's what makes it the most potentially vibrant and best music around (and I say that as someone deeply attached to music made by pale, melancholy, skinny boys with guitars). I was trying to think of a musical form that hasn't appeared in hip-hop at some point. Hair metal? Check. Musicals? Check. Bluegrass? Check. Klezmer? Check. I couldn't recall any traditional bagpipe music being used, but other than that I was stumped.

Hip-hop can go anywhere, do anything. I don't see the force holding it back as an intrinsic white racism. I'd suggest the only thing stopping it would be if it chose to look inwards, instead of outwards; not racism, but certainly a blinkered attitude towards the possibilities and complexities of the world.
posted by flashboy at 9:57 AM on December 5, 2004


kenny g does a disservice to the cultures he exploits for profit

indeed ... the belgian inventor of the saxophone must be rolling over in his grave

embryo, can you name me one successful civilization or culture that didn't "exploit" the achievements of people outside of that culture ... the historical truth is vibrant art has always come at the intersection where different cultures meet ... it's disingenuous to speak of a purely white or black american musical culture because there is no such thing ... a simple look at the instruments and other tools used in modern music will reveal that

and as far as the mainly residual privileges i get as a white person in this society ... let's see ... i get to work at a place where 30% of the workforce is black ... 2 out of 8 team leaders there are black and one is hispanic ... i live in an apartment complex that is 40% black ... i live in a society where for the most part overt racism is condemned vocally ... while people who make comments about trailer park trash (i've lived half of my adult life in a trailer park), hillbillies, (my wife's family is descended from the infamous mccoys), etc etc are laughed at and agreed with ... furthermore, there are millions of black people who live in better neighborhoods and have much better jobs than i do

if you feel privileged, by all means say so ... but don't assume for a minute that all white people are ... or that the privileges they still have actually result in anything tangible

flashboy ... bagpipe hip hop ... yeah, that's what i want to hear
posted by pyramid termite at 10:03 AM on December 5, 2004


can you name me one "successful" civilization or culture that isn't white?
posted by Embryo at 10:50 AM on December 5, 2004


1. Japanese


That was easy. Want some others?
posted by flashboy at 11:04 AM on December 5, 2004


2. chinese

gosh this is easy, isn't it?
posted by pyramid termite at 11:11 AM on December 5, 2004


you'll have to define 'successful' for me before i can understand what you think you're proving by naming those two cultures.
posted by Embryo at 11:17 AM on December 5, 2004


3. aztec
4. inca
5. mayan
6. zimbabwean (i'd think that someone who claims to know about black culture would know of this one)

i think a succesful civilization is one that lasted for a few hundred years

and if we're going to talk about successful cultures ... they're successful as long as they're participated in ... example ... hip hop culture ...
posted by pyramid termite at 11:31 AM on December 5, 2004


7. Ghana
8. Mali

I'm starting to revert back to my earlier thought that you don't know very much outside of your chosen bastion of hiphop. Unless your "can you name me one 'successful' civilization or culture that isn't white?" was a test meant to expose our ignorance. Otherwise, a very strange question, especially for such a staunch anti-racist.
posted by languagehat at 11:47 AM on December 5, 2004


Anyone else finding Embryo to be fairly racist?
posted by five fresh fish at 11:48 AM on December 5, 2004


Which is to say, I get the feeling he's all for racism, as long as it is applied exclusively against whites.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:49 AM on December 5, 2004


Embryo, I honestly don't see why you toss out this:

can you name me one "successful" civilization or culture that isn't white?

and then, when you get two responses, then backtrack and say this:

you'll have to define 'successful' for me before i can understand what you think you're proving by naming those two cultures.

Because, shouldn't you define "successful" when you pose this little test to us, if you're then going to claim that another's definition doesn't match up with yours?

Or, to use your words, you'll have to define "successful" for me before I can understand what you think you're proving by asking that question.
posted by Vidiot at 11:57 AM on December 5, 2004


OK, Embryo - do you think they're unsuccessful? I went for Japanese above the thousands of other possible examples because:

- it is both a politically definable civilization and an easily recognisable culture
- it is contemporary
- it is economically and politically powerful
- it has significant cultural impact outside its area of geographical origin
- it combines strong, unique elements of self-generated culture with many appropriated elements from a large number of other cultures.

I fail to see how you any claim could be made for it not being a civilization, a culture, or unsuccessful.

Me, if you asked what I thought a successful culture was (I think it's a daft term to apply to cultures, but hey) then any one which persists over the course of several generations, and which expands significantly beyond its geographical or demographic origins. Civilization is more tricky (and equally pointless) to define success for, because the definition of civilization itself is awkward, especially when looking at history and prehistory. Was Unetice (early Bronze Age, Central European) a civilization or a culture?

But I suspect the point you're trying to make about "success" is that it must include some element of domination, must combine both political and economic power with a recognised culture - otherwise you wouldn't have asked a ludicrous question like "can you name a successful civilization or culture that isn't white?"

Some more civilizations and cultures.

9 - The Ottoman Empire
10 - Ashanti
11 - Rastafarianism
12 - Bollywood cinema
posted by flashboy at 12:20 PM on December 5, 2004


once again, i could defend myself, but i really don't understand why i'm being personally attacked in the course of this discussion, especially after y'all already noted how good i was about not taking your bait, which I had taken as a sort of backhanded apology.

I wasn't the one who applied the term 'successful' to cultures originally, that was pyramid termite. I made the mistake of not asking him to clarify that word usage, and assumed that he was talking about the usual 'successful' cultures. I've heard a lot of this all before, to be honest. But that was a mistake, I got ahead of myself.

I wasn't asking everyone to chime in with their idea of what a successful culture is, and I wasn't saying that no culture who wasn't white is successful, that's a silly word to apply anyhow. I was saying that most cultures that have achieved success through exploitation of the cultural ideas (or, you know, we could open this up to just plain exploitation in general) of others have been white ones.

When I say "exploitation" I don't mean the usage or borrowing or learning from, I mean the stripping-of-meaning-and-context for monetary or societal gain type of exploitation. This gets more complex when you look at cultures that place a high premium on individuality (like those based on capitalism) vs. collectivist cultures.

So, because I don't know of any, not because I don't think there are any, share with me a non-white culture that grew successful based on the creations and cultural ideation of a culture it had dominance over (because yes, flashboy, that is what we are talking about here).

by the way, flashboy, what kind of effect has Western military dominance had on Japanese culture? Would you say that the Japanese culture that was essentially declawed and made to seem obsolete post WWII was successful? Again, this is a silly word to apply. My point is that western ideas of success often have a lot more to do with domination than many non-western ideas do.
posted by Embryo at 1:15 PM on December 5, 2004


five fresh fish, when racism was created by white people for the sole purpose of being wielded against non-whites, how can racism be wielded against whites? seriously. it MEANS white dominance, it is the essence of the idea.
posted by Embryo at 1:16 PM on December 5, 2004


flashboy, the other part of that Japan train of thought was: it is arguably the non-western entity that has been the most affected by western (European) culture, although Malaysia and India are on that list to varying degrees. It's just interesting that that is the one you cite as successful.
posted by Embryo at 1:18 PM on December 5, 2004


but i really don't understand why i'm being personally attacked in the course of this discussion, especially after y'all already noted how good i was about not taking your bait, which I had taken as a sort of backhanded apology

It's easy to understand; it just depends on how you define "attacked", "discussion", "good", "bait", and "apology". Oh, And "y'all". And maybe "understand". And ".".
posted by Armitage Shanks at 1:53 PM on December 5, 2004


So, because I don't know of any, not because I don't think there are any, share with me a non-white culture that grew successful based on the creations and cultural ideation of a culture it had dominance over

the mongol and manchu dynasties of china

when racism was created by white people for the sole purpose of being wielded against non-whites, how can racism be wielded against whites?

the same way nerve gas or nuclear weapons would be ... considering that xenophobia has been an established fact throughout the world for thousands of years, it takes very little effort for the concept to be turned into racism and against white people ... people often become like their oppressors as they fight them

to say that black people are incapable of being racist is to say that they're incapable of understanding and applying the concept, which is ridiculous ... and power relationships depend on the immediate context of a situation, don't they? ... and on the proportion of power each person has ... and blacks are not always powerless and whites are not always powerful in every social situation

the truth is your arguments about racism rely on the same kind of gross generalities that racism itself does ... and it's not going to work
posted by pyramid termite at 2:21 PM on December 5, 2004


If you repeat a thing often enough, it's true.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:22 PM on December 5, 2004


Wow. That derailed pretty emphatically.

I didn't think this thread was about the music itself, although discussion of same is integral to the discussion.

And I wasn't under the impression that anyone was being racist about anything, though this argument seems to be pushing some people into points of argument that (I hope) don't reflect their true opinions. (Embryo, you can't refute everything all at once. Show your true colors by example over the next few months instead of trying to push the weather here.)

I thought the link and discussion was about writing about music & culture, not music and culture themselves. So by nature it's going to be a little more intellectual than a similar discussion about the relative dangers of any type of music, be it death metal or skate punk or go-go or friggin' Nepalese nose harp.

So everyone, put the lynch mob shit away, alright? (That's a request, not a demand. If y'all are hell bent on taking someone out, I'm not gonna get all Gandhi on your asses.)
posted by chicobangs at 2:35 PM on December 5, 2004


if you ignore a concept often enough, it flies over your head.

pyramid, you can choose to see the broader context of a situation, or you can focus on the moment and miss the point. you're now repeating arguments i already responded to earlier in this thread. prejudice and racism are not the same things.

chico, you're right, i wish someone else would have stepped up . no matter. this is a long-term discussion. i'll leave y'all with a few things to think on if you so choose:

Defining White Privilege, by Kendall Clark.

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, by Peggy McIntosh.

Tools for White Guys who are Working Towards Social Change (and other people socialized in a society based on domination, by Chris Crass.

White Supremacy On My Mind: Learning to Undermine Racism, by Chris Crass.

and a quick self-criticism: the one thing i failed to do most during this discussion is remind myself of my own role in the struggle, which is not as simple as just trying to spread these ideas. reading the 'tools for white guys' once a week is not a bad exercise.. i'ma endeavor to do so.
posted by Embryo at 3:20 PM on December 5, 2004


self loathing white people piss me off!
posted by jbou at 4:03 PM on December 5, 2004


Embryo and others, I've been following this with interest.

Embryo, I feel like you're just ignoring the meaning others are ascribing to the word "racist." To most people, including me, it means "discrimination on the basis of skin color or ethnicity." You've called this "ethnic prejudice," which many would treat as meaning the same thing as racism. Is there something to be gained by reserving the term "racist" for white-on-non-white prejudice? You must see that this is far from standard usage. Surely you don't deny that there exists "ethnic prejudice" between, say, blacks and hispanics. Is there something to be gained by not calling this racism? You say "it just isn't racism," but this is not a scientific term, and its definition can have no authority other than usage.

I see that you want to talk specifically about racism on the part of a powerful class aimed at a powerless class. Why not just say that? Your point about the complex relationships between blacks and whites in America and how that effects hip hop has become completely swamped by what seems to be a misplaced need to use your own terminology. Is your point really made more effective by provoking your largely white audience with claims that the vice of "racism" is committed only by them? There are so many basically intelligent white people out there who are put off from progressive views of race relations because of this attitude, which participates in the essentially evil idea that your skin color excludes you from parts of the human experience. Don't perpetuate that. Fight the good fight, point out the continued workings of racism and the struggle for a liberated black America, but don't alienate people by insisting on reserving for the very people you have to convince a special term for their sin.
posted by rustcellar at 4:07 PM on December 5, 2004


rustcellar, thanks for following and participating.

I hear your suggestion, but I don't see it as tenable given the basic facts of the situation: racism doesn't refer to something as simple as an example of prejudice between racial groups. It refers to "race", a social construct that inherently involves -two- groups: white people and non-white people.

Race is about whiteness. I'm having trouble using different words to say this because it seems so simple to me... because it's already clicked. This concept represents a paradigm shift, and it requires detaching oneself from all ethnocentrism.

Here's a parallel: to say that racism describes all ethnic prejudice and oppression is to say that the word "coke" describes all soft drinks, even though it was a word that was created to describe ONE such soft drink. This is silly, it's a misuse of the concept, but people do it anyhow. Now, what if actual Coke itself was full of poison, but people forgot that "Coke" wasn't the same thing as "soft drink"? Everyone would stop drinking their "coke" of choice, because they wouldn't understand the detail of the message that was being sent.

Let me try it like this: for most white people, race seems like a universal concept. It's a tenet of our civilization: there are different kinds of humans. Race just describes these different kinds. Right?

But this is false. -Ethnicity- describes different subgroupings and cultural groupings of humans. Irish, Japanese, Semetic, Arabic - these are ethnic groups.

White people, on the other hand, do not belong to an ethnic group. We are part of a race, a socially constructed concept that has always, since it was introduced, levied privilege and power onto its members to the detriment of those without. It was created and spread around the world by the only people who had the power to declare such a criteria for access to power: the aristocracy of Western Europe.

Who is and who is not white has always changed and continues to change. My Irish ancestors were not considered to be white when they emigrated to America in the early 1900s. Over the course of three generations, they earned their right to be called white by discarding the aspects of their culture that differed from the dominant white norms. Now, I have no concept of my ethnic culture - only of whiteness, a club that my ancestors traded their identities in for access to, so that I might have the ability to succeed in ways they were not allowed to.

And regardless of the question of whether it is RIGHT for there to be such a socially constructed (read: unneccessary) force working to destroy culture and change peoples' identities (while preserving others'), it's a choice that people of color don't have the choice to make. White skin privilege is the foundation of the construct of whiteness, and it is the reason why there is no route towards racial justice aside from the dismantling of the systems of oppression that keep whiteness in place.
posted by Embryo at 4:49 PM on December 5, 2004


jbou: who are you talking about? I love being a white anti-racist ally.
posted by Embryo at 4:51 PM on December 5, 2004


rust, as for skin color excluding you from parts of the human experience, I think it is crucial in understanding racism for white people to grasp that we cannot possibly understand the experience of people of color in American society: that is how all-encompassing and damaging racism is to our communities. It's not our skin color that excludes us from each others' experiences, it is racism, it is white supremacy, it is blind oppression.

The idea that I, or any other person, can truly know the heart and life of another person is actually one that seems silly to me, and also seems foundational to the kind of conceit that allows people to condemn and judge others in categories because of their skin color, sexual orientation, class, or lifestyle choice.
posted by Embryo at 4:57 PM on December 5, 2004


pyramid, you can choose to see the broader context of a situation, or you can focus on the moment and miss the point.

i'm not going to deny the reality of any particular moment in anyone's experience because it doesn't agree with my personal ideology

and i'm going to make something very clear to you ... it's not going to do you or our society much good to combat racism if you don't also question your class assumptions and experiences ... and the ones of those who you've linked to

hint ... it's a different world on the factory floor ... and many of us are way beyond you on this ... and although race is a factor in the oppression of some of us ... class is a factor in the oppression of ALL of us
posted by pyramid termite at 4:59 PM on December 5, 2004


to say that racism describes all ethnic prejudice and oppression is to say that the word "coke" describes all soft drinks, even though it was a word that was created to describe ONE such soft drink

I guess that's the problem here. I say "coke" to describe all soft drinks too. :)
posted by rustcellar at 5:04 PM on December 5, 2004


I, for one, am not giving up my place at the top, screw it, call me the oppressor, or whatever. I like getting a break from the cops, getting all the good jobs, and hanging out at the club talking about how we whites gotta keep them darkies in line....

Meanwhile in the real world I'm just another working class fool, getting tickets for speeding, fighting to get a decent job, and I get to deliver beer to the country club.


Embryo, seriously man, most white guys do not have the privileges you speak of, we just don't, we don't have some power instilled upon us by being born white. I'd argue that it's having money that get's you all sorts of cool privileges, but just being white doesn't come with much.

Embryo, give me some background on yourself, are you a rich kid? Does your family have money?
posted by jbou at 5:07 PM on December 5, 2004


Is Oprah a white woman?
posted by five fresh fish at 6:35 PM on December 5, 2004


Embryo, seriously man, most white guys do not have the privileges you speak of, we just don't, we don't have some power instilled upon us by being born white.

Um, yes, actually, you do. And please, read the links.

# I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
# If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
# I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
# I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
# I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
# When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
# I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
# If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
# I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
# Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
# I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
# I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals,the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.
# I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
# I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
# I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
# I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
# I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
# I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to "the person in charge," I will be facing a person of my race.
# If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.
# I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children's magazines featuring people of my race.
# I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, out numbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.
# I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.
# I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
# I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
# If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.
# I can choose blemish cover or bandages in flesh color and have them more or less match my skin.

posted by iamck at 7:25 PM on December 5, 2004


Embryo, it's not that I don't understand what you're saying. It's just that I disagree.

My definition of "race" and "racism" is different than yours -- but mine seems to be the one that's supported by most of the other people in this thread, by common usage, and yes, by the dictionary.

And it seems that you're loudly insisting that the concept is different, and that your particular definition has primacy over all the others. Again, I understand the point you're making, but I don't agree. And it seems that you're loudly arguing the same points, over and over, without it really going anywhere.

I also don't understand why you're claiming a very narrow definition of "racism" and "white", saying that your "Irish ancestors were not considered to be white when they emigrated to America in the early 1900s." But you throw around terms like "person of color" pretty easily, I notice.

I'm honestly not trying to gang up you -- I'm trying to understand your argument, and it's not helping that you're couching it in terms which seem self-evident to you, but are evidently mystifying to just about everybody else.

I got a head start because of my background, true. But that doesn't mean that I'm set for life, or that no black person can attain my modest level of "success." One great thing about our system is that the circumstances of your birth don't have to define the circumstances of your life. People from lower-class backgrounds may have to work harder than people from the upper class, but they can still achieve amazing things. (This is why I support affirmative action.) Heck, I don't know his background, but the CEO of my Fortune 50 company is a black man, and he has privileges and wealth beyond my imaginings.
posted by Vidiot at 7:41 PM on December 5, 2004


(And by no means am I saying our system's perfect...just that it's possible for people to succeed, even with the deck stacked against them.)
posted by Vidiot at 8:46 PM on December 5, 2004


Any of you white boys in Japan want to address that checklist?
posted by five fresh fish at 9:10 PM on December 5, 2004


And that would be fine. Because white privilege doesn't exist in Japan. Japanese privilege exists in Japan.

God, it's not black and white. =P
posted by iamck at 9:47 PM on December 5, 2004


lupus_yonderboy: Sorry about that; you're right, I was being needlessly acerbic. I don't have time to go into detail now, but I'd encourage you to investigate some of the groups recommended in this thread, and here are some other comments I've posted on the subject. Feel free to email me, if you want.
posted by Tlogmer at 10:08 PM on December 5, 2004


Any of you white boys in Japan want to address that checklist?

I'm not sure what purpose that would serve. The point of the article is that individuals derive some degree of privilege -- even if they didn't ask for it, don't want it, and actively work to reject it -- when the experiences and culture of a group to which they appear to belong are institutionalized as the norm. Since that's not true for white people in Japan, the list wouldn't apply to them. In fact, I think it the article is intended to pertain only to the United States. If you still think it's crap that's another issue, but at least consider it in the context in which it was originally intended.

(On preview: basically, "What iamck said 30 minutes ago in about a thousand fewer words." Damn, I write slow.)
posted by purplemonkie at 10:15 PM on December 5, 2004


Race is about whiteness. I'm having trouble using different words to say this because it seems so simple to me... because it's already clicked.

Exactly. As I said before, we've come down to the fundamental assumptions of the debate, and we can go no further. I know this is the premise upon which you're making your arguments, but it simply isn't one that I agree with. Not through a lack of understanding, or because of the implicit prejudices I have grown up with, or whatever. Just because I don't agree. I see power relationships as something far more complicated than that.

I would note that your repeated point about your Irish ancestors "not being white" (with which I concur, and would add my own family's experiences) does not actually support your argument, but opposes it. Or rather, renders it meaningless. If the definition of "white" is itself a shifting, context-dependent one, then surely it is obvious that "white" is functioning merely as a synonym for something else - political power, economic power, demographic majority, whatever.

That list of privileges that come with being white (noted by iamck) is, to my eyes, false. A large number of them are simply not true for many white people. A large number of them also apply to a wide range of other ethnicities. It seems fairly obvious that for most of them, it is trivially easy to replace "race" with any other classification - class, wealth, geographical origin, gender, sexuality, culture, religion, physical appearance, disability, whatever - and still be left with equally powerful and valid statements. (The concept was explicitly brought over from women's studies, after all.) A privilege is not simply the absence of one specific form of discrimination or barrier, especially when other barriers can be just as - or more - significant.


Anyhow. As I said, I don't think we're going to get anywhere with that, which is fine (and I do thank you again for your civility). Another day, no doubt.

My one other point would be referring back to the idea of appropriating cultures. When you noted that Japan has been heavily influenced by western ideas and cultures, you seemed to suggest that this was a bad thing, or invalidated it as an example of non-white cultural appropriation. There seems to be an imbalance in the perception of cultural transmission between populations, one that goes beyond power differentials. Namely, that when ideas pass from culture A to culture B, it is appropriation, and somehow destructive of culture A; when they pass from culture B to culture A it is an imposition or imperialism, and once again destructive of of culture A.

This seems odd.
posted by flashboy at 11:56 PM on December 5, 2004


So everyone, put the lynch mob shit away, alright?

Yes please! Right, I've remained silent on the topic because I suspected it was going nowhere. Worse than that, it's gone very badly. I do not agree with Embryo's definition of the term racism. I think what Embryo defines as racism is what I define as institutional racism; if I am correct in that suspicion then he is right to think of it as a big deal. It's another phenomenon that worries and offends me when white people are asked to confront the issue of institutional racism and see the response "hang on, black people can be racist too!" as a valid response to that.

We all agree (bar Embryo) that people of all races have the capacity for racism; but that does not mean that institutional racism (which, for example, is a major issue in the UK police force and army) is very largely a white phenomenon (in the West, at least) and one that warrants discussion without the need for being defensive.

Trying to spin Embryo's opinion into that of a racist is downright offensive, in my opinion.

Let me add Mesopotamia, Egyptian and Nubian civilisations to the long, overwhelming list of non-white civilisations. However, and this is pathetic: extending the point that because Embryo was wrong about one thing he is wrong about everything and his point of view is racist and/or invalid is idiotic.
posted by nthdegx at 1:12 AM on December 6, 2004


The point of the article is that individuals derive some degree of privilege -- even if they didn't ask for it, don't want it, and actively work to reject it -- when the experiences and culture of a group to which they appear to belong are institutionalized as the norm. Since that's not true for white people in Japan...

No, it's true for Japanese people in Japan. Was fff's comment that hard to understand? His point is that Japanese in Japan are in a parallel situation to that of whites in America: they can easily arrange to be in groups made of of people like themselves, they can be confident that people with power over them will be like themselves, &c &c. Furthermore, there is a considerable degree of racism (or, for Embryo, "ethnic prejudice") among the Japanese; they tend to have contempt for Koreans, Chinese, and other non-Japanese.

And I don't see any "lynch mob shit"; it seems to me people are being very civil. A number of us are pushing Embryo on his insistence on a particular definition of "racism," but if that's your idea of a lynch mob, you have a very low threshold indeed.
posted by languagehat at 6:36 AM on December 6, 2004


No, it's true for Japanese people in Japan. Was fff's comment that hard to understand? His point is that Japanese in Japan are in a parallel situation to that of whites in America: they can easily arrange to be in groups made of of people like themselves, they can be confident that people with power over them will be like themselves, &c &c. Furthermore, there is a considerable degree of racism (or, for Embryo, "ethnic prejudice") among the Japanese; they tend to have contempt for Koreans, Chinese, and other non-Japanese.

languagehat, I know that and I agree with it. However, I read fff's comment as implying that because the list doesn't apply to white people in Japan, it can't be applied to white people anywhere. If that was an incorrect interpretation, I apologize.

Also... what nthdegx said, particularly the first paragraph. During the course of this thread I've countless times had the urge to pipe in, but for the most part resisted because I really didn't see the discussion coming to any satisfying conclusion. But ah, what the hell.

Embryo, as both a non-white person living in the US and someone who worked as an anti-racism trainer for nearly ten years, I understand where you're coming from and sincerely appreciate your commitment to being an ally. I also agree it is crucial to distinguish between racial preference that occurs on an interpersonal level and racial preference that is systemically reflected in and upheld by a society's values, norms, and institutions. After all, the two phenomena manifest themselves differently and working to dismantle them requires different strategies, so it makes sense to refer to them using distinct language.

However, I'm not sure that insisting upon a racism definition which excludes interactions on anything but the institutional level is the best way of going about that, not because I don't understand your intentions in doing so but because oftentimes, it just doesn't work. This thread is a prime example. Your definition is not commonly used outside of certain anti-racism activist circles and can thus be problematic in everyday conversation. It confuses people, it puts them on the defensive, and it all but guarantees that the conversation will devolve into a pointless argument over who's allowed to call whom 'racist.' Let's say you somehow managed to convince everyone here that racism is a strictly white phenomenon. What would that accomplish? Racism would still exist, only you'd have a bunch of white people feeling guilty about how horrible and oppressive they are simply by virtue of a group membership over which they have no control, and a bunch of non-white people behaving as if they are absolved of any role in helping to dismantle the institution. Guilt, as you are probably aware, is a useless emotion when it comes to anti-racism (or anti-any-ism, for that matter) work. A sense of complete innocence is no better.

Furthermore, I have heard it argued that a strictly institutional definition of racism, taken in its purest form, implies that while anyone can behave in a manner condoning and upholding racism, no one person is capable of being racist (with the possible exception of those few individuals holding vast institutional power). I can see both sides of that argument, but to be honest I really don't care to hash it out. My point is that if not even anti-racist activists agree on a particular definition a hundred percent of the time, why should it be expected of anyone else?

Again, Embryo, I do think I understand where you’re coming from. But the ability to adjust one's language and approach according to one's audience -- to meet people 'where they're at' and work from there -- is an important part of being an ally. During a discussion which is clearly becoming an unproductive morass due to something as fundamental as a difference of definition, I don't see anything wrong with saying something like "OK, that's obviously going to be a sticking point… can we at least both agree that institutional racism is a problem?" and continuing from there. Sure, it requires some flexibility on your part, but at least it leaves the door open for a more mutually beneficial conversation.
posted by purplemonkie at 7:11 AM on December 6, 2004


We all agree (bar Embryo) that people of all races have the capacity for racism; but that does not mean that institutional racism (which, for example, is a major issue in the UK police force and army) is very largely a white phenomenon (in the West, at least) and one that warrants discussion without the need for being defensive.

Agreed, completely.
posted by Vidiot at 8:05 AM on December 6, 2004


Well said, purplemonkie.
posted by languagehat at 12:10 PM on December 6, 2004


My comment on Japan was to indicate that racism, which is abundant in that country, is not the sole domain of whites.

"North America is hindered by institutionalized racism" is a wholly different statement than "only whites can be racist."

The latter statement is, I think, quite racist itself.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:49 PM on December 6, 2004


No, it's true for Japanese people in Japan. Was fff's comment that hard to understand? His point is that Japanese in Japan are in a parallel situation to that of whites in America: they can easily arrange to be in groups made of of people like themselves, they can be confident that people with power over them will be like themselves, &c &c. Furthermore, there is a considerable degree of racism (or, for Embryo, "ethnic prejudice") among the Japanese; they tend to have contempt for Koreans, Chinese, and other non-Japanese.

The equation of "whites" and "Japanese" is exactly the mindset that I am talking about that is hindering you from grasping the point I am making. Whites are not "Americans". If "Americans" had all of those advantages in America, we would be having a completely different conversation.

purplemonkie, thanks for your response. The reason that I don't think calling it institutional racism is right is because it allows us to ignore the fact that it manifests itself just as much on an interpersonal level as it does on an institutional one. And the reason that it is important to me that I don't push responsibility for racism onto people of color is that it confuses the process that we need to undergo to repair the damage that racism is doing / has done in this country: white people need to become less racist, and people of color need to evaluate the impact that racism has had and undo the damage that racism has done to them. They're two sides of the same coin, but that doesn't make them the same thing.

Other than that, you're right. I need to find ways to compromise. But I fear that your willingness to do so has given Vidiot and languagehat permission to walk away from this conversation with exactly the same mindset they came to it with, with no change in their perception and no inclination to accept personal responsiblity for racism. That makes these conversations nearly useless, and that is not the kind of progress that I am seeking to create.
posted by Embryo at 4:54 PM on December 6, 2004


No, it's true for Japanese people in Japan. Was fff's comment that hard to understand? His point is that Japanese in Japan are in a parallel situation to that of whites in America: they can easily arrange to be in groups made of of people like themselves, they can be confident that people with power over them will be like themselves, &c &c. Furthermore, there is a considerable degree of racism (or, for Embryo, "ethnic prejudice") among the Japanese; they tend to have contempt for Koreans, Chinese, and other non-Japanese.

The equation of "whites" and "Japanese" is exactly the mindset that I am talking about that is hindering you from grasping the point I am making. Whites are not "Americans". If "Americans" had all of those advantages in America, we would be having a completely different conversation.

purplemonkie, thanks for your response. The reason that I don't think calling it institutional racism is right is because it allows us to ignore the fact that it manifests itself just as much on an interpersonal level as it does on an institutional one. And the reason that it is important to me that I don't push responsibility for racism onto people of color is that it confuses the process that we need to undergo to repair the damage that racism is doing / has done in this country: white people need to become less racist, and people of color need to evaluate the impact that racism has had and undo the damage that racism has done to them. They're two sides of the same coin, but that doesn't make them the same thing.

Other than that, you're right. I need to find ways to compromise. But I fear that your and nthdegx's willingnesses to do so has given Vidiot and languagehat permission to walk away from this conversation with exactly the same mindset they came to it with, with no change in their perception and no inclination to accept personal responsiblity for racism. That makes these conversations nearly useless, and that is not the kind of forward-moving that I am seeking to create. The state of race relations in this country -should- be disturbing. I would rather give people pause to consider things they are uncomfortable thinking about than give in and say "oh fine, you're right, your role is exactly as meaningless as you say it is, keep on oppressing people, it's okay because you just don't know you're doing it."
posted by Embryo at 4:59 PM on December 6, 2004


and that is not the kind of forward-moving dialogue that I am seeking to create.
posted by Embryo at 5:01 PM on December 6, 2004


oh f***, my bad. i think that means it's time for me to stop posting in this thread for real.
posted by Embryo at 5:02 PM on December 6, 2004


I fear that your and nthdegx's willingnesses to do so has given Vidiot and languagehat permission to walk away from this conversation with exactly the same mindset they came to it with, with no change in their perception and no inclination to accept personal responsiblity for racism.

OK, that right there is exactly why I (and I imagine others) find myself getting pissed off at you despite your reasoned responses. You're not looking for dialogue, "forward-moving" or not, you're looking to change us, to make us better people, able to "accept personal responsiblity for racism." You know what? I was dealing with these issues before you were a gleam in your daddy's eye, I don't need anybody's permission to have my own mindset, and it's fucking presumptuous of you to go around expecting people to say "gosh, Embryo, you know what, all my life I've been taking my white privilege for granted, but now that you've explained the world to me, I renounce my privilege! I will spend the rest of my life working against racism, side by side with the oppressed peoples of the world!" I strongly suggest that if you want to have productive discussions here you renounce your own assumptions about your own wisdom and virtue, assume your interlocutors to be at least as intelligent and thoughtful as yourself, and proceed from there. Otherwise you're teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, and that just never goes over very well.

Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed the discussion here and I think you have a lot to contribute to MeFi, but you've got to lose the halo. You're just a rapper, you know?
posted by languagehat at 6:09 PM on December 6, 2004


I'm going to own my strengths, and one of them is that I've spent the last 4 years of my life working side-by-side among white allies and people of color to build an accountable analysis of racism and to tackle issues from perspectives that most of my peers evidently have no sense of. Your sense that because you're my elder you must know more and have a better sense of these things is just as oppressive as the racism you're unwilling to confront. I'm not an angel, I'm an anti-racist, and guess what, racism lives inside of me and of you.. and I'm against it. I'm not looking for your approval.
posted by Embryo at 6:25 PM on December 6, 2004


here's the thing : i believe that you're just as intelligent and thoughtful as me. I also believe that you're resisting using that intelligence to confront unpleasant truths. I believe this because I have been in the same place, said the same things you are, and been just as indignant about being asked to take responsibility. This is called a struggle for a reason.
posted by Embryo at 6:29 PM on December 6, 2004


I fear that your willingness to do so has given Vidiot and languagehat permission to walk away from this conversation with exactly the same mindset they came to it with, with no change in their perception and no inclination to accept personal responsiblity for racism.

I'm tempted to say, "what languagehat said."

You know what? I'm tired of your condescending to me. Believe it or not, I've heard these arguments before you stated them in this thread. As I've said, I understand your point, but I disagree with it. And since the only acceptable-to-you way for this conversation to end is for me to fall on my knees, saying that now I SEE THE LIGHT that you have brought to my poor backward existence, I guess you're just going to have to be dissatisfied with poor me.

Don't mistake someone not agreeing with you, and having a reasonably friendly argument with you, as avoiding "unpleasant truths." Because that frames the debate in an unnecessarily dualistic way -- I'm either completely with you, or I'm completely wrong. And that's a condescending, infantilizing, marginalizing mindset to have. (See? I've taken sociology classes too.) And it goes both ways: your insistence that you're right, by God, and that everyone should see things the way you do works against you. Your refusal to really engage my take (or languagehat's, or that of others in this thread) doesn't show that you're willing to really address these ideas, but rather that you prefer to recite your tautologies.

I think that racism, be it institutional or interpersonal, and no matter who practices it, is utterly deplorable. I think that people everywhere need to see past "the Other" and follow the Golden Rule. I'm not "indignant about being asked to take responsibility." I'll take responsibility, sure. I'll gladly take personal responsibility for my own attitudes and my own behavior. That's all I can promise.

I look forward to talking with you in another thread, perhaps one in which you're willing to meet people halfway.
posted by Vidiot at 9:50 PM on December 6, 2004


Embryo, I don't even know how to begin to respond, but I'll try. Reading your most recent posts literally made me throw up my hands in frustration. I realize that your intentions are good but in your doggedness to demonstrate your enlightenment -- or the benightedness of others, I'm no longer sure which -- you've condescended to and misconstrued the words and mindsets of just about everyone who's commented in the latter part of this thread, including me.

This is a good place to start: The reason that I don't think calling it institutional racism is right is because it allows us to ignore the fact that it manifests itself just as much on an interpersonal level as it does on an institutional one.

Please, listen to what I am saying. I personally and professionally use the phrase "institutional racism," and I am telling you: under no circumstances do I ignore the fact that interpersonal racism exists. You are wrong about this; one does not necessarily follow the other. I wish I could have you sit down with one, ten, or a few hundred of the people who've been through anti-racism workshops with me over the years, hear their varied experiences and perspectives regarding the matter, and see for yourself, but since that just isn't possible I can only ask you to take my word for it. Your way is not the only way. It is a fact that valid, effective, and I daresay life-changing anti-racism work can be done using a variety of approaches and vocabularies. I have seen this proven time and time again, and that you refuse to acknowledge it is immensely frustrating.

And the reason that it is important to me that I don't push responsibility for racism onto people of color is that it confuses the process that we need to undergo to repair the damage that racism is doing / has done in this country: white people need to become less racist, and people of color need to evaluate the impact that racism has had and undo the damage that racism has done to them.

While I thank you for taking the time to explain to me my role in undoing racism, I disagree. It is largely true that people of color did not have a hand in the original creation and exploitation of race as a concept. However, now that the system has become normalized, institutionalized, and -- pardon the cliche -- woven into the fabric of American society, every single person living under this system, regardless of his or her race, has some part in upholding and perpetuating it, if only through passivity. Yes, it is important that I acknowledge the impact that racism has had on my life and heal from it, but it is not enough. I have a responsibility to interrupt racist dynamics when I see them. I have responsibility to examine the ways racism has negatively affected my interactions with and assumptions about white people, and work to change that. I have a responsibility to raise issues of race, when relevant, if they are being ignored. I have a responsibility to learn about how racism differentially affects non-white people of racial backgrounds other than my own. I have a responsibility to forge authentic relationships across racial identity whenever I can. I have a responsibility to examine the ways racism interconnects with and helps support other forms of oppression. And I take my responsibilities very seriously.

I need to find ways to compromise. But I fear that your and nthdegx's willingnesses to do so has given Vidiot and languagehat permission to walk away from this conversation with exactly the same mindset they came to it with, with no change in their perception and no inclination to accept personal responsiblity for racism.

That you single out Vidiot and languagehat in this way astonishes me. I've read through the thread several times -- no insignificant feat, that -- and I've yet to see evidence of such an attitude in any of their posts. You give the impression that the only way one can satisfactorily demonstrate acceptance of personal responsibility for racism is to agree with you and converse solely on your terms. I hope that's not the case.

You're right, confronting unpleasant truths is integral to the process of dismantling oppressive systems. But here's the thing: it's not a one-way street. It would do you a lot of good to confront the unpleasant truth that you don't know everything, that you haven't seen it all, and that your way is not The Way. What has been effective for you personally and in your circle of colleagues -- while I'm not knocking it, if that's what works for you -- will not necessarily be effective in a conversation on the Internets with people you don't know and can't see. You have a lot to learn, as do I, as does everyone, and every new interaction presents an opportunity to reevaluate and refine your approach. Here, you did heck of a lot more than "[give] people pause;" you turned them away, and rather than use that as an impetus to consider how you might avoid doing so in the future in a similar situation, you're chosen to chalk it up as evidence that you're right and everyone else is wrong. I hope you one day come to see it differently.
posted by purplemonkie at 7:20 AM on December 7, 2004


my apologies to purplemonkie: i didn't mean to deign to tell you how to deal with racism, although that is clearly exactly how that sloppily-worded paragraph sounds. doing that is totally inappropriate for me to do as a white person. i'm responsible for the work that my community has to do - which i do believe is to become less racist and to make an effort to battle our assumptions - and that's the end of my role, and my right to make judgements or cast an opinion.

and, you're right that there are other ways to look at this, and the idea that i stated - that separating different kids of racism as if they are different when they are in fact part of the same system confuses the issue and often allows white folks to avoid engaging the interconnectedness of all of racism's facets- is not one that i meant to lift up as foundational to this discussion. the foundational parts, as i see them, are related to the origin of race and the types of normalization of whiteness that are a direct root of that origin.

clearly I have a lot of work to do, I'ma take your advice to heart, and the words of languagehat and vidiot as well.

apologies to them as well - I do see wisdom in your perspectives and respect your experience. I don't think I'm righter than you or that my ideas are more important than yours. I do feel like my ideas _are_ important, and when I struggle to communicate them effectively I get frustrated. Again, my apologies, and I look forward to engaging you in future threads.
posted by Embryo at 8:21 AM on December 7, 2004


I heart purplemonkie.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:21 AM on December 7, 2004


Me too. And thanks, Embryo -- it's not easy to step back from confrontation, but it gets you lots of points around here.
posted by languagehat at 1:39 PM on December 7, 2004


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